Automated Avatars in Second Life — ‘bots 2.0?

You’ll be quite favourably surprised when watching the video below, courtesy of UK high-tech company Daden Limited, who have just presented their latest attempts at combining pretty reasonable artificial intelligence techniques, including environment awareness and links to external sources of media (Wikipedia, Amazon, BBC) into a Second Life® avatar.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=9hte2MJ54CA

It’s important to observe that this is not “merely a chatbot”, although it’s definitely to use it as one. Daden’s AI is quite clever to allow the avatar to react to its environment, which is a breakthrough in ‘bit technology: their AI construct is able to avoid items it doesn’t like, feel happy (using gestures!) when something nice happens or sad when an object it likes disappears from view, be inquisitive and touch items around to see what happens (and learn that certain items can give the avatar thinks it likes, so it’ll be prepared to touch similar items in the future), and navigate around the environment, finding places to sit, avoiding other avatars (or coming close to them), giving them items or accepting inventory offers, and so on.

A very nice touch was to give the AI “extended knowledge” when someone asks it some questions. As the narrator on the video explains, it’s worthless to create a huge database of information which will always just represent a tiny fraction of human common sense and knowledge. Instead, the AI makes calls to popular webservices provided by Amazon, Wikipedia, or BBC, and can thus answer some typical questions that we humans tend to ask ‘bots to see if they’re human or not. In fact, we can look at Daden’s AI as a much sexier interface to Wikipedia or Amazon — the AI just looks much nicer than a “Search” box and provides the same kind of services using natural language queries.

This amazing piece of work definitely opens up new possibilities beyond the pure research field. Similar “automated avatars” could certainly be used by companies (both SL and RL) to have a higher level of interactivity with their visitors — cleverly done, you could have shop attendants trying to help people out to find out where are the items they want to buy (always a pain when you find a reiew of something you like and have to navigate through 1000+ slow-rezzing textures on vendors to finally find what you wish). Or RL companies could easily answer some typical questions — not unlike similar Web-based products — to visitors to their virtual presence in SL, at least until a human representative can come in-world. 

Also, of course, “automated avatars” would make it completely impossible for Linden Lab to automatically figure out who’s a human and who’s a ‘bot 😉 thus frustrating the number of people demanding from Linden Lab to “stop allowing ‘bots in Second Life!” Indeed, such advanced AIs might only be traceable by humans, but not by a pattern-matching algorithm that goes through logs trying to find a “predictable” behaviour (ie. staying in the same sim for a long time and moving little around, not answering to chat or IM). Daden’s AI is way too clever for that and definitely interacts with other avatars and the environment beyond the ability to be tracked down by an algorithm.

Vint Falken was as enthusiastic about this as I was 🙂 Thanks for the link, Vint!

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