Call him Jack Headroom. IBM President Jack D. Kuehler was accompanied at his keynote speech at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas by a computer-generated image of himself. When it was projected from an IBM RS/6000 workstation onto a screen, the virtual Jack had a short conversation with the real one. IBM demonstrated this technology, a prototype from its Austin (Tex.) laboratory, to show an example of how human-like computer "agents" will perform work for you in the future. For instance, such a character can open and read a person's electronic mail and retrieve all kinds of information on a network when ordered to do so.

But unlike Max Headroom, the 1980s' television character, the IBM image was not a cartoon drawing nor was it made from a digitized photograph. The image is assembled from a data base containing three-dimensional solid models of different parts of Kuehler's face. The data base also contains fragments of Kuehler's voice, so that when it speaks, it synthesizes a voice that has the tone and accent of the real thing. After the computerized Jack read a prepared text, Kuehler joked that next time he could send it instead of himself to be the keynote speaker.

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