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Remote Virtual Dialog System

Remote Virtual Dialog System (RVDS) research and development, based on Interactive Drama's Conversim ®Virtual Conversation® System, will make the NLM “Dialogues in Science” series accessible anywhere by anyone who has access to an Internet Web browser and a microphone. The Dialogues, which simulate interviews with 16 prominent leaders in medicine and related fields, are currently available only on site at the NLM Visitors Center.

For this project, LHNCBC has funded the development of a voice-to-text conversion and recognition tool that works across platforms (Mac, PC, Unix systems) and introduces as little time delay as possible. This project involves enhancing the virtual dialogue model's programmatic capabilities to make it sustainable and to enable expanded model applications. More interviews are being added to the Dialogues and some interviews are being updated.
About the RVDS in the NLM Visitors Center

The RVDS combines speech recognition, digital video, and personal computer technologies to allow the public to meet these expert leaders and learn about their accomplishments in a personalized way. Seated face-to-face before a video of the expert on the computer screen, the user speaks and the expert responds. The result is an engaging and realistic exchange between them.


A click or touch on the image of an expert causes the person to come forward, introduce himself or herself, and remain available to answer queries about his or her personal life, professional career, and significant achievements. The natural-language, free-speech model is easy to use. The program preserves biomedical history and the personal legacy of each of these leaders in a new way. And these experts, along with others to be added, will remain present in perpetuity for conversations with future generations.


The Visitors Center RVDS now comprises interviews with 16 prominent leaders in medicine, biomedical research, public health, and related fields, presented in video format. Visitors use a microphone to ask selected questions of an interviewee and view their video responses. The interviews are with:
  • Dr. Julius Axelrod was an NIH scientist and Nobel Prize winner whose work led to the development of a class of antidepressant drugs that includes Prozac. Early in his career, he discovered the pain-relieving compound N-acetyl-p-aminophenol (now known as acetaminophen), which is marketed commercially as Tylenol. He was quick to say that he never received a penny from the drug company for his discovery.
  • NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, who was interviewed when he was the head of NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute, where he directed the Human Genome Project, which successfully mapped the human genome.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, is internationally recognized for his contributions to the understanding and treatment of HIV/AIDS, as well as for a vaccine to prevent HIV infection. In the early 1980s, he became a target of activist criticism, blamed for the federal government’s inaction regarding getting experimental drugs to people desperate for treatment. He handled this by inviting the activist leaders into his office to talk and, persuaded by their arguments, he became their advocate at NIH. He is one of the most cited scientists in the world and frequently appears on television commenting on HIV/AIDs, bioterrorism, and pandemic flu.
  • Edward Feigenbaum, a pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence, which is the design and engineering of intelligent computing systems.
  • Sen. John Glenn, longtime Senator and former astronaut. He was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.
  • Dr. Bernadine Healy was a cardiologist who became the first woman Director of NIH. She also was the CEO of the American Red Cross and the health editor for U.S. News & World Report magazine.
  • Robert E. Kahn, who with Vinton Cerf is recognized as the co-developer of the Internet. Together they conceptualized and designed the TCP/IP protocol that allows computer networks to communicate with each other.
  • Dr. C. Everett Koop was the Surgeon General appointed by President Ronald Reagan. He launched a massive public education campaign to inform Americans about HIV/AIDS risks and prevention. He also conducted research on the effects of second-hand smoke, which resulted in smoking being prohibited on airplanes.
  • Dr. Joshua Lederberg won the Nobel Prize for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria. He was an expert in biological warfare and advised nine U.S. presidents on this subject. He coined the term “clone.” He discovered that some bacteria reproduce by mating, i.e., by combining their genetic material. This discovery helped to explain the evolution and adaptation of microorganisms, which led to the understanding of how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. His work changed the common scientific assumption that bacteria were unsuitable for genetic analysis. His experiments demonstrated that bacteria could serve as a powerful experimental system with broad application in genetic research.
  • Dr. Donald Lindberg is the NLM Director. He has transformed the NLM from a paper-based library used primarily by physicians into a digital, online library for all health professionals and the general public. He continues to keep NLM at the cutting-edge of technology in medical informatics.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, cardiologist and former head of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. As NHLBI director, she initiated and directed research studies that have contributed to our knowledge and understanding of cardiac, lung, and blood disorders in women and in African American and Hispanic populations. She left NHLBI in November 2009 to become president of Brigham and Women’s /Faulkner Hospitals in Boston.
  • Dr. Marshall Nirenberg was the first NIH scientist to win a Nobel Prize -- the “Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.” He cracked the genetic code and proved that RNA triggered protein synthesis. He went on, with the help of a team of NIH scientists, to decipher the entire genetic code.
  • Major Owens served over 20 years in Congress as the U.S. Representative from Brooklyn. He was known as the “Education Congressman” because of his dedication to passing laws to give disadvantaged students in public schools access to computers so that they would have equal access to economic opportunity in the workplace. In 1983, he became the first librarian elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He  also known as the “Rapping Congressman” because he often wrote his positions on important issues in the form of rap poetry, and rapped before Congress. (The virtual dialogue program includes some video clips of him rapping.)
  • Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, a pioneer and leader in the field of bioethics. He is responsible for making the teaching of ethics a formal part of the medical school curriculum.
  • Paul Rogers spent 24 years in Congress, where he was known as “Mr. Health” because of his dedication to passing laws to support and protect the public health. These include the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the National Cancer Act, among numerous others. He was an ardent supporter of NLM and founded the Friends of the National Library of Medicine. An act of Congress in 2000 designated the main plaza at NIH as the Paul G. Rogers Plaza.
  • Dr. Maxine Singer is a pioneering molecular biologist and champion for women and minorities in science. She made important contributions to Nirenberg’s deciphering of the genetic code. Her own research has contributed much to our understanding of RNA and DNA. She co-coordinated the famous Asilomar Conference, where scientists first addressed concerns about biohazards and agreed to restrictions on research involving recombinant DNA. She is president emerita of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.