The apparent character of CONVERSE is Catherine, a 26 year-old female editor for a magazine like Vanity Fair, who was born in the UK, but currently lives in New York. The contents of Catherine's character are stored in a database of features and values, known as the Person database (PDB). The kinds of things that we store about Catherine are the details of her physical appearance, her birthday, astrological sign, some of her likes and dislikes, whether she has a boyfriend, where she works, etc. For the most part, things in the PDB are all related to facts about Catherine. We can also store information about other people in the PDB, in particular people that are related to Catherine in some way: her mother, father, friend, boss, etc. Scripts are the driving force of the program and whenever possible, we aim to keep control of the conversation, by posing a question at the end of a system utterance. The scripts cover a range of 80 topics, but this can be easily extended (within the limits of the hardware) with a graphical script editing interface. Currently, some of the topics covered are crime, racism, religion, the Simpsons, mobile phones, abortion, travel, food and violence. These are only differences of topic not of genre or style. The method for acquiring the scripts is done in a two stage process: first, a script writer sketches out the script on paper and secondly, the scripts are entered into the system via a semi-automatic script editor. The script editor establishes the flow of control through the script based on the user's responses to each script utterance.
Amongst the recreational applications which are foreseen for CONVERSE, foremost is the idea of using it as a virtual friend. CONVERSE's Person Data Base can be augmented with data for different personalities, enabling the user to talk, on one day, to a virtual elderly English gentleman and on another occasion to a virtual 20-year-old punk music fan from the Bronx. Eventually the user should be able to describe the personality with whom he wishes to talk, and there would then be a module to create a suitable Person Data Base conforming to the user's specification.