The secrets of the Dome revealed at last

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The Independent Online
AFTER MONTHS of speculation - and condemnation - organisers of the Millennium Dome last night unveiled the first detailed glimpse of its contents.

British Telecommunications, one of the first commercial sponsors to sign up at a cost of pounds 12m, launched its "zone" which will offer a vision of how people will communicate in the future.

In two giant pavilions next to the central piazza inside the controversial pounds 758m project in Greenwich, south-east London, visitors will be asked to analyse the art of a good conversation. In one exhibit, the Dome audience can vote what happens next in a conversation between two actors - steering the chatter away from disaster to something more positive.

The six-storey high pavilions will have transparent walls, linked by a walkway. Video images and projections will be used as well as live actors, walking guides and a whole range of buttons and inter- active gadgetry.

Other possible events will include video-conference link-ups with young people around the world. On a more practical note, everybody in the country is to be offered a free personal electronic mail address.

According to the publicity, the zone, to be called the BT FutureTalk project, will encourage both adults and children to develop the way they communicate.

Bill Cockburn, of BT, said: "Our research shows that the British people see the millennium as an opportunity to learn new communication skills which equip them for the century ahead.

A Mori survey for BT showed that 55 per cent of people experienced annoying habits in other people's conversation. And 45 per cent of those asked had fallen out with a friend, lost self-confidence or felt unhappy at work as a result of difficulties with communication. The same number said they were interested in learning to communicate better. Nearly two- fifths of pet owners found it easier to talk to their animals than to other humans.

BT regards its Dome sponsorship, backed by a pounds 30m nationwide scheme encouraging better communication, as a response to the 70 per cent of people who said in a recent poll that they wanted the millennium to provide a "lasting legacy of improvement".

Unveiling the scheme in the building site of the Dome in Greenwich yesterday, Adrian Hosford, of BT, said that many people felt ill-equipped for the 21st century.

He wanted the journey through the zone - taking between 20 minutes and an hour - to be a "voyage of discovery" for people to find out how they could benefit from new technology.

It was about "the art of conversation," he said. "When you've got the skills for effective communication, it is about how technology can amplify that."