HOST is developing artificial child avatars for interview training of child-welfare and law-enforcement professionals

The aim of this project is to improve interviews with maltreated children through a training program using realistic and interactive child avatars.

Child holding hands with a robot in Japan. Photo: Andy Kelly, Unsplash

ILMA (Interview training of child-welfare and law-enforcement professionals interviewing maltreated children supported via artificial avatars) is an interdisciplinary project where Michael A. Riegler and Pål Halvorsen from the department of Holistic Systems (HOST) at SimulaMet will be working with Gunn Astrid Baugerud (PI) and Miriam Johnson from OsloMet Faculty of Social Sciences. The project will begin on the 1st of April 2021 and end on the 31st of March in 2024. It is funded by The Research Council of Norway with 12 million NOK and will include three Ph.D. positions. 

Addresses important societal needs 

Maltreatment and abuse of children is a significant societal problem that has serious and damaging effects on children’s behavior, psychological development, and adjustment. Detection and prevention of violence and sexual abuse against children is, therefore, a high priority for Child Protective Services (CPS) and law-enforcement professionals. The conversations and investigative interviews that are conducted with these children must be of high quality. However, both Norwegian and international research shows that despite investments in methodology, the current interview and conversation skills still need to be improved.

– In this way, the project addresses important societal needs contributing to elicit disclosures of types of maltreatment and endangerment of children, and improving maltreated and abused children’s health and quality of life, says project leader Gunn Astrid Baugerud. 

Highly realistic 

By using an empirically informed training system in highly realistic child avatars, this project aims to develop and maintain the advanced skills needed for interviewing maltreated children. They will use data from past investigative interviews with maltreated children and create a real-looking avatar that is capable of expressing emotion and spontaneous responses. 

– The planned avatar will be a combination of technologies from multiple areas in computer science including AI, computer vision, and natural language processing. Simplified, the idea is that the visual avatar will be an AI-based component similar to the well-known Obama-video where the avatar’s facial expressions and lip-movement will follow the generated audio, says Pål Halvorsen. 

– For the speech, other AI models will be trained on existing interviews. Then, based on the interviewer's question, transformed to text, a response will be generated, transformed back to speech, and returned to the interviewer through the child avatar with suitable emotion and facial expressions.

The aim is for the child avatars to be a part of an interview-training program that will be implemented in cooperation with the CPS and the police. The training system will be evaluated by the project scientists to judge effectiveness in relation to real-world needs. 

The project also involves collaborations with researchers from Griffith University in Australia and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.


To read more visit the project website on 

The project is funded by The Research Council of Norway