This is the last of my current projects and hopefully provides an illustration of how new research directions build off of existing research, with new questions and new goals.

The intent of this project is to develop Empathic Tutorial Bots for Student Populations.

In going over earlier posts you probably have noted the issue of dependency/addiction in relationship to the digital, whether it be Korean gaming addiction, social media addiction, Second Life/virtual world dependency-escapism, etc.  All have a common theme with the passive place of the user and the manipulation by various external forces.

However both Miller’s group (the Why We Post project) and our work indicate that we have to start looking at the user as an active rather than passive agent.  When you make this conceptual shift, you also end up looking at issues of dependency differently.  Ironically, seeing users as active agents suggests that ‘removing’ a dependency can be more of a struggle than with the passive agent model.  With the active agent model you have to provide a viable alternative to the behavior they want to control.  This means that if you want to get someone to shop checking their Instagram or WhatsApp account every 30 seconds, you have to come up with something more interesting, more attractive, or more emotionally rewarding.

Research on dependency-addiction in various forms has consistently shown that emotional engagement is critical to long-term success.  The user has to care about “X” enough that they are willing to modify their behavior.  This is the basis of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, support groups, support networks, etc.—all use the process of building emotional engagement with others to encourage the behavior you want to modify.  Once this happens, getting (and keeping) the group’s approval for ‘good behavior’ becomes a major motivator for behavioral change.

Effective learning also involves a strong social-emotional component.  The more emotionally engaged, the more effort is put into the learning process.  This is why one-on-one tutoring and small group training is usually more effective than large class instruction.  But traditionally issues of time, cost, and availability all work against the application of this technique on a large scale.

The Bot/AI field has seen a number of different designs intended to address these issues, but Hanson Robotic’s Professor Einstein Tutorial Bot (https://professoreinstein.com/) is arguably the first successful iteration.  By combining the Bot/Tutor (verbal) with the App [Stein-o-Matic](tutoring materials) they have built an automated tutorial Bot.  By virtue of its appearance, movements and voice it is intended to build an emotional relationship with the user/student.  The intent is that the more the student emotionally engages with the Bot, the more they will pay attention to the tutoring process, the more effort they will put into working through the tutorials, and the more they will retain the material.

Providing emotionally engaging, individualized, on-demand tutoring and behavioral coaching is the goal of our project.  We are developing a Tutorial Bot which by virtue of appearance, movement and sound will encourage the user to build an emotional relationship with the Bot.  The Bot is intended to be held and thus through physical contact build stronger emotional bonds with the user.

In our version the Bot acts both as a Learning Tutor and also as a “Life Coach”.  The “Life Coach” function is driven by physiological monitoring to record and track stress levels.  One of the main goals of the monitoring is to assist in the mitigation of negative behaviors related to stress and social media dependency.  At the holographic level, Gatebox’s ‘Maid’ AI system (https://gatebox.ai/) apparently has some of the same goals.

The Empathic Bot is intended to provide educational and behavioral support to university students to both assist their educational success and reinforce positive behaviors to support their emotional health.




  • Critical Thinking is usually defined as a logical, sequential approach to analyzing something
  • In 2020, with programs such as Deep Mind, Formal Critical Thinking can be coded, and applied by an AI.  Examples include Facebook’s new ‘quality control’ bots [patrolling the site to evaluate and remove fake news, spam, etc.]
  • Creative Thinking can be defined as looking at things-situations from a different perspective
  • Creative Thinking emphasized intuition and leaps between apparently unrelated items.  For the near future, Creative Thinking is not feasible to code, so is AI proof.



FIRST, you need to create a comfort zone with minimal distractions [use what you are most comfortable with], THEN:

Do a Meditation session to remove you from immediate distractions, THEN:

Place an object in your view, examine it in detail, THEN:

Develop a story-scenario involving that object

Take approximately 5 minutes to build the story-scenario

Go into as much detail and make it as complete as possible


1) Go to YouTube and load up https://youtu.be/sAUpfYsrSb4?t=2 [Professor Einstein] but don’t watch it yet.

2) Get comfortable and go into meditation mode, meditate for 1 minute or so

3) now run the YouTube ‘Professor Einstein’ video

4) Take 2-3 minutes and build a story-scenario involving the Professor Einstein robot—it can be anything you come up with

4a) Make it as detailed as possible

  • Just as a note, if interested you can see one of the Einstein’s in my office


Creative Thinking requires exercise and practice.  You want to get to the point that you can trigger it on demand.  You want to make it intentional.

Do this exercise above several times a day.

Practice by observing people and situations around you and building them into scenarios in your mind.

Note—Being stuck in a queue is a great place to practice this technique.




[see WebMD] for a typical overview.











#1 DON’T EAT TOO MUCH, OR DRINK TOO MANY HIGH-CAFFEINE DRINKS [think Monster/Starbucks]: Even worse, combine the two.  Both affect your ability to concentrate, caffeine directly drives up anxiety/stress levels.  Very “good” if you WANT to add to your depression levels for a bunch of reasons.

#2 PUSHING TO STAY AWAKE ON LATE NIGHTERS AND ‘GET STUFF DONE’: Especially when combined with #1, your product output will generally be poor and you’ve almost always shot the next day, unless you go back to #1.

#3 ALCOHOL-DRUGS AS ESCAPE: If you’re drinking to escape, it doesn’t work.  You’re actually adding to your self-esteem and guilt issues, and the down time will be a wash just like #2.

#4 SNAPPING AT FAMILY, FRIENDS, PETS: Good for increasing your anxiety levels—you’re not actually ‘releasing your anger’ but adding to it, especially if they react to your outburst, and you get to add to your guilt level for free.  Note how this frequently leads back to #1 and/or #3.

#5 BREAKING STUFF, GOING AGGRO: Not only are you likely to get push-back from someone is you go off on them or break stuff—which can add spectacularly to your stress—but also increase your anxiety and guilt levels.  As with #4, this frequently leads back to #1 and/or #3.

#6 SELF-CRITICISM: BEING STRESSED DOESN’T MAKE YOU A FAILURE, OR WEAK:  We’ve covered this before—our world in 2020 is built around social media that use stress to manipulate your behavior.  The last thing Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram wants is for you to be happy and content with yourself.  The more insecure, the more stressed you get, the more you go to social media, the more money they make.  And they are very good at it.  Falling victim to this is not failure—it just means you’re normal.  Harsh self-criticism serves no function except to generate more stress and guilt.

NOTE HOW ALL OF THESE WORK IN FEEDBACK CYCLES: This also means the reducing just one will have impacts in other areas that you hadn’t thought of.





Some of these are covered in the Learning Modules, but now go through and try various meditative techniques yourself. See which works the best for you. Remember that means not only which is most effective, but which you’re willing to keep up and turn into a permanent habit.

#1 MEDITATION, FORMAL EXERCISE AND DEEP BREATHING: By now these should be self-evident.  But remember to experiment and find out which set works the best (least effort) for you—sound, visual, audial, Qi Kong, Tai Chi…  And PRACTICE IT UNTIL YOU CAN KICK INTO IT WITHOUT HESITATION.  YOU HAVE TO TURN MEDITATION AND EXERCISE INTO A HABIT.

#2 GETTING OUTDOORS AND/OR EXERCISING: Especially here in Hawaii, walking is easy to do most of the year.  For a change: try walking in the rain; walking somewhere different; scheduling walks same time-same day so again it becomes a habit.  Set the phone to vibrate, and DON’T CHECK IT WHILE WALKING.  Pay attention to your surroundings-look at each house, each yard as you walk by.

#3 LET SOME EMOTIONAL ENERGY ESCAPE: Go to YouTube and watch something else to make you laugh; watch a Korean soap opera to make you cry.

#4 TALK STUFF THROUGH WITH A CLOSE FRIEND OR SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Not only will talking about it help, but frequently they will have very different insights into what’s going on, which may help you understand more about the source of your stress.  Maybe new ways of dealing with it.

#5 TALK STUFF OVER WITH YOUR PET, PET PLANT, PET ROCK, YOUR AUMAKU’A: Talking it through, even if you’re not getting an answer, will frequently give you some relief but also help you look at the situation in a different light.  Be careful doing this in public.  If you don’t have a pet, get a Hasbro Dog or Cat—that’s what they were designed for.

#6 DO SOMETHING CREATIVE—MAKE SOMETHING, BUILD SOMETHING, FIX YOUR BROKEN PADDLE AND THEN GO PADDLING AND TEST IT OUT: Doing something, completing something is really underrated as stress reduction.  Even better if you can combine with getting out and around.

#7 DO SOME TUNES: BETTER IF YOU CAN DO IT OUTSIDE–BUT LISTEN TO SOME MUSIC. Music is a very effective escape.  Use headphones if can, you want to able to lose yourself in the tunes.

#8 WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, GET SOME HELP: IF YOU’RE NOT COMFORTABLE WITH WESTERN APPROACHES, SAY A PSYCHOLOGIST/COUNSELOR, THEN SEEK OUT SOMEONE FROM A BELIEF SYSTEM YOU ARE COMFORTABLE WITH.  For example, if you practice martial arts, approach your shifu/master.  Ask them—they can (and will) provide you with someone who can help.  Approach someone who you respect as being grounded and centered—don’t ask for their help, but instead ask them for who THEY WOULD RECOMMEND, and then try them out.  You may not find what you want or need, but by following that path or journey you will actually be dealing with your situation.  Buddhists call this walking your unique path, which is always a process of self-discovery.

Social Media Dependency Research

The current state of research on social media dependency-addiction among students

This area of study was triggered among us when several years ago we were discussing the increasing problem we were having with phone use in the classroom.  Not only was phone usage up, but we were starting to see changes in student’s reactions to ‘quit using your phone’.  In the past students were bummed but would comply.  But starting around 2015 we noticed that an ever-increasing number of students seemed to be incapable of NOT using their phones.  They were actually exhibiting emotional distress when removed from their phones, to the extent that some would actually leave class rather than quit phone usage.  It looked very similar to smoking or other addictive behaviors.

Initially we thought this was a personality-discipline issue, and unique to a small group.  But when talking it over we realized that it was actually a relatively large number of students exhibiting these behaviors and the emotional need to stay socially connected.  At this point Dr. Darren Iwamoto (Psychology) and I decided to formally study these behaviors with the goal of modifying and improving student behavior for professional success.

You have seen the results of some of our research with the Leamnson survey you took at the beginning of the semester [which has turned out be a very surprising data set], and the summary of findings that have been embedded in the social media portion of the AN 341 [Digital Realities, Virtual Worlds] course.  Social media addiction is a rapidly-growing field of research and of public concern—looking at the social, behavioral and physiological impacts of social media use.  It has become a standard topic in the media, though actually field studies are very limited.

Probably the most complex study done to date is that of Miller et al “Why We Post” project, both in numbers and in scope.  Many of our findings replicate theirs, though we have a very different agenda and focus—that of Chaminade undergraduate students.

The most recent Pew study supports the dominant nature of social media in our lives (March 1, 2018: http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/).  The majority of Americans now use Facebook, most of them on a daily basis.  The typical American uses 3 of the 8 major social media platforms, many multiple times daily, and on multiple platforms.

There are clear correlations with social media use and the decrease in close emotional relationships from roughly 2 close friends 20 years ago to 1 today.  Siloing–hanging out with those who reflect your very specific set of attitudes and values, to the exclusion of others, is normative.  Concern about image—the manipulation of images prior to posting, the emotional reactions to negative posts and/or defriending, are also normative.  In our student population the rates of clinically defined depression is staggeringly high, around 20%, and yet this is actually somewhat lower than comparable mainland studies which suggest 25% is the normative range.

While there is wide-spread agreement on the social and emotional costs of social media addiction/dependency (there is not much agreement on which it should be labeled as), there is no agreement on how we deal with it.  Most approaches are either naïve—‘just quit using your phone, go cold turkey’; or have limited persistence (such as not allowing phones in the workplace).

At some point users have to take control both of their behavior and of their world.  This is the goal of our Learning Modules which we have been developing, the most recent being the Creative Thinking module just distributed to our classes.

All this research is ongoing, and the playing field changes by the day—for instance the rapid growth of WhatsApp among certain groups [a very interesting finding in the Why We Post study]; shifting gender-age patterns in app usage; and the lack of development of social norms on both acceptable phone use and acceptable social media behavior.  So much of the material presented this year will change by next year, and we are constantly designing new and hopefully more effective Learning Modules to help students deal with all these issues.

Why Ikigai?

Much of the material we have covered in our projects intersect in unexpected ways.  But one main reason for this has to do with a major false underlying assumption relating to the digital-the passive and active players.  The majority of the material dealing with digital impacts are based on naïve assumptions that the developer/owner as the active agent, while the user is the vulnerable, clueless and passive agent.  This logic can be seen in ongoing discussion with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook where only CA and Zuckerberg are active agents, and the abused users are passive.  Yet if you look at the follow-on, a fascinating subtext emerged when the huge majority of the users went ‘whatevers’ and just went back to checking their likes and posts.  As Miller and his group have noted: look at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/why-we-post.  The digital is defined by the users—a phenomenon we have seen dramatically in Second Life’s history.

But if the user is actually the key player then one key question has to be: Why are they so heavily engaged in the digital given all the problematic impacts of that engagement (emotional, social, psychological, physical)?

This is the driver for the Ikigai analysis—looking at existing motivators and potential motivators (or change agents).  Who we see ourselves as and how we see that relationship with everything around us, is central to understanding how and why we make the decisions we do.  Why we get drawn into a catfishing episode, why we take on a digital avatar in a virtual world, why we use an app to modify our ‘casual’ appearance before we post…

But it also helps us to understand why it is so difficult to modify our behavior, and maybe with digital, learn how to disengage (at least temporarily).

Ikigai and Otaku: Self-Identity and Self-Motivation Research Path 2

About 20 years ago I began looking at change in Japanese society.  In the post-80’s in Japan there was a huge amount of discussion about the ‘collapse of Japanese values’, lack of work ethic in the young, widespread cynicism about the Japanese work ethic.  All of this was quite interesting given the hyper-coherent structure of Japanese society, where there is tremendous uniformity of attitudes and values.  So in contemporary Japanese society change is a very interesting topic to be looking at.

A term which frequently arose was that of ikigai, an internalized sense of self, reason for being or one’s reason for functioning every day—“what makes life worth living?”  Within the change discussion was both that younger generations had ‘lost’ their ikigai, but there was also the counter, that the younger generation actually had a stronger grasp of ikigai, but in forms that were foreign to their elders.

Mathew’s very good work (1996) on ikigai was key to making sense of this concept.  Frequently spun into this discussion was the role of otaku as examples of the changes.  Galbraith has done a number of works on this topic, Otaku Spaces (2012) being a good example.  Otaku is a term which is usually defined as someone who’s identity is based on a specific interest or hobby.  But a more sophisticated distinction is that otaku are individuals who are mainly engaged in the 2-dimensional (visual or digital) reality in contrast to the 3-dimensional (i.e., ‘normal’) reality.

When you combine the concept of self-identity along with this very flexible perception of 2-D/3-D reality, and all this discussion was taking place in the early 2000’s, it became clear that what was seen as a culture-specific (Japanese) phenomena actually had value for understanding behavior in much of the digital world.

This continuum of reality can be best illustrated in the Hatsune Miku phenomenon we saw at the beginning of the semester.  One of the top pop stars in Japan is a digital hologram stage entertainer, singing songs with a synthesized voice, built in large part by software; but in a real concert, on a real stage with a real live backup band, all in front of thousands of real fans [https://youtu.be/KNrdGx69pCo?t=3].  A perfect illustration of the complexity of defining reality in 2020–a continuum.

The second path is looking at how we place ourselves in our world view (part of ikigai) and how we engage with the various forms of digital reality.  For many today, it could be said that that they are otaku with social media; that our world revolves around the 2-D digital constructs that engage and motivate us.  This can be at the cost of fully engaging in the 3-D world.  This helps to explain the results of our study (the extremely high rates of depression in current 18-25 year olds) and also the responses that we get in our perceptual studies (which show high levels of concern about the controlling nature of social media).

A possible process by which to engage users to re-structure their relationship with both the 2-D and 3-D is to train people to more clearly define their sense of self (ikigai) in the context of a digital reality.  Sensitizing people to their relationship and dependency on digital reality, but at the same time helping them to structure a more balanced and robust sense of “what makes life worth living” is the goal of our second path of research.

This is the basis of much of the Learning Modules material that we had this semester; attempts we are making to sensitize and modify behaviors in students.  But notice how it also goes back to some of the discussion about residents in Second Life—their level of emotional and investment with a 2-D virtual world.  There appear to be a number of parallels with how we engage with the digital regardless of the platform or content.

Miller’s Why We Post project

First thoughts-a great website, fantastic project.  But I think a real key point he makes is that users define how social media is used, not the developers.  This is an eerie echo of Second Life, which upon starting up (2003) had exactly the same thing happen–the users quickly defined what the platform would become, which was very different from what the developers had intended.  Again it appears that in many ways SL was a precursor to the social media phenom, at least from behavioral POV.

Great data from Miller’s group, and I think we can reference their key findings as social impacts for our project.

Emotional Support Bot Design 1

From my sister’s data, it’s becoming clear that the Hasbro Cat is very effective at eliciting an emotional response from people.  A key point of interest is why is it effective–our quick and dirty beta test here is that the Dog is not near as effective, in fact is negatively(?) effective.  The Cat in the office gets fairly constant interaction even when not turned on–the Dog has by request been turned off most of the time, as it is very irritating in a social environment.

D. thinks that a key ‘trick’ is the demanding of attention–a 2018 version of tamagotchi, and that the effort leads to valuation.  Oddly, the Dog is more demanding, but with voice rather than movement/purring.  This doesn’t work.  Bob thinks (and I suspect he’s right) that the 2 units were developed by different teams w/in Hasbro, especially since the Cat posture/movement were not copied in the Dog, which is missing most movement.  So it appears that the emotional link is based on perceived need–“IT” needs you, but there is a fine line between bonding and irritation.

We have also just realized our ‘ikigai‘ model has suddenly become a hot topic in self-help/self-improvement groups, witness all the new books coming out with ‘ikigai’ at key, new blogposts on the topic, etc.  Having said that, as far as we can tell, all miss a major component of Mathews 1996 work, which was that most Japanese don’t even know what their ikigai is, nor is there any real general agreement on how one gets there.  His work is very clear that ikigai is not self-improvement, “making yourself all that you can be” or such–it is an internal need to have a central, persistent purpose to existence.  This within the Asian context of good/bad being in balance, and without the idea of self-improvement, but rather within the idea of following a path (unique to each individual).

Second Life as a Research Project

My Second Life research looks at the role of digital built environment.

As we have seen, Second Life is like a whiteboard—what is in SL is reflective of a particular point in time and a particular set of participants who are paying for the right to put up aspects of their imagination or fantasy into a digital world.  However, just as with changing classrooms, where the whiteboard gets wiped clean, to have new material placed on it, so does the SL landscape get erased as users leave and new users show up.  This makes the SL landscape uniquely different from our real-world landscape, which is constantly embedded in the past—think of going down Harding or Waialae—new buildings, old walls, sidewalks, roads, plants—all sorts of different periods, all mixed in, the past and the present intertwined.  Also, you are constrained by money, zoning and rules of the group in terms of what you can do in Honolulu—almost all of which is absent in SL.


Theoretically you could walk down the same road in SL once a month and never see the same built environment—but every time you went on that road you know that you are looking at a specific persons’ image of what they want to have and/or be in a unconstrained virtual setting.  This is especially true when you remember the SL is structured for anonymity (unlike Facebook), so it should reflect more of what YOU want rather than group or social demands on you.


From a cultural geographer’s standpoint, since we are mainly interested in the ways in which people view, function and modify our environment, SL gives us insights into place and space that we can’t get elsewhere.  From the standpoint of an archaeologist, who are frequently looking at the built environment as manifestations of social values and symbols, the freedom of the digital allows us to see SL as a unique experiment into choice, message and values.


As we’ve seen, the paradox, which famously mystified the staff at Linden Labs when they first opened up Second Life to users, was that the exotic expressions of ‘free individual fantasy fulfillment’ was frequently a small ranch style home that would look totally at home in anywhere USA (such as Boring, Oregon)[Au’s Making of Second Life covers this in detail].  But from my background in archaeology and cultural geography this is a great area of study, especially as with the whiteboard, the audience is constantly changing.  But in a rather surreal way, while the users/residents change, the built environment seems to remain pretty constant.  This is especially striking given the demographic shifts in the SL audience, with roughly 30-40% from North America, changing percentages from Europe and Asia, a recent major growth in percentage from Brazil, but the built environment remains strikingly boring.


A second note is that if the majority of residents are from outside the U.S., why is the built environment so American looking?  Strip malls, bungalow/ranch style homes, furniture…  Very little of SL’s built environment reflects in any way the diversity of the global group of residents.  You wonder what proportion of the population of “Pleasantville” is actually American?  Is this reflective of globalization, of Hollywood/mass media?  But if that’s true, where is Asian media?


Studies have shown that the vast majority of built pieces (including clothes, avatars, etc.) in SL are purchased, many in Marketplace.  But when you look at the diversity of offerings in Marketplace, again the choices that an apparently diverse population make are puzzling.  Where is the diversity?  Where is the extreme individual expression given the anonymity of Second Life?  The only place you see this is in the avatars themselves, though a number of studies have noted that the longer residents stay in SL, the more they modify their avatars to reflect their real world selves.


Collecting visual data in SL is extremely easy, you simply set a screen grab up and go traveling in SL.  Analyzing the data is a much more complex process for a number of reasons.  As with almost all of our material this semester, digital virtual worlds are so recent that there are no clearly defined set of techniques or processes by which to analyze the context of SL.  Since you change a house in a second, leave SL in a second, purchase land in about 10 seconds, old forms of data collection and analysis are not usually a clean fit.  How important is house size, placement or color in a virtual world?  If it’s floating in the air vs being on the ground?


A big one in my travels, that I still don’t have a satisfactory answer for, though I’m sure it’s significant in some way is: Given the lack of zoning, is there any significance to clusters of structures vs. ones by themselves?  Is the clustering a reflection of group, shared values and attitudes, the surrounding environment or simply random?  If a mix, how (as an observer) can you tell?


Central to all this is the premise that if people are spending time (and money) putting something up, even virtual, then what are they trying to communicate to others?  And how does that differ in the digital, if at all?


No answers, just more questions.


It is also becoming clear that in many ways Second Life in many ways was a precursor to our current engagement with social media.  The desire to be in groups by choice, to identify with a like-minded group that shares similar goals or values (again think Pleasantville or furries), all this predates social media by at least 5 years.  What was seen as an isolate or exotic has turned out to be in many ways the norm.


What does it mean for the future?  There is a bunch of money being pushed into virtual worlds, most famously Facebook, and as technology quickly moves away from phones to augmented reality systems, I think it is likely that even more aspects of Second Life will have turned out to suggest the world we will exist in by 2025.  This has implications for all of us in terms of life choices, careers and future plans that in many ways make going back and wandering around Second Life while pondering the near future for a couple of days a worthwhile exercise.