Eddie, pictured left, is the RPI researcher's creation. He behaves realistically and implements human-like psychology. He can understand complex concepts like beliefs, and has his own wants.  (Source: RPI/Second Life)
Researchers simulate childhood thought process, further blurring the line between artificial intelligence and biological intelligence

While some skeptics, such as Apple-cofounder Steve Wozniak, dismiss artificial intelligence insisting that robots will never be able to reach a human level of thinking process and behavior, the reality is that artificial intelligence is fast approaching human level thought process.  Battlefield robots are making life and death decisions, and an international panel recently met to discuss whether robots could be tried for war crimes

In vehicles, DailyTech witnessed firsthand the GM-sponsored DARPA robotic driver navigate a complicated course with efficiency matching or surpassing that of a human.  Meanwhile, SRI National works to create DARPA funded robotic assistants which learn and organize thoughts in a human-like fashion.

As robots become more and more human-like, we face the duality of the result. On the one hand, in creating something that is human-like we learn more about what makes us human; on the other hand, by creating a replica of man, the line between human and machine becomes more blurry.  As we enter the future, reality in the virtual world and real world is merging into one.  Scientists already demonstrated the first "mixed reality" systems -- systems in which a virtual and a real world device were indistinguishable.

Continuing along the path of convergence between biology and the digital world, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) are developing complex artificial intelligence to control characters in the popular online game Second Life.  These characters will be able to have beliefs, distinguish human and AI characters' beliefs, and manipulate the behaviors of human and AI characters based on these beliefs. 

The team unveiled their first creation, a 4-year old child avatar dubbed "Eddie", at an AI conference.  The avatar not only follows the aforementioned intelligence goals, developing beliefs, but also behaves psychologically like a human child.  Researcher Selmer Bringsjord explains the creation process, stating, "Current avatars in massively multiplayer online worlds — such as Second Life — are directly tethered to a user’s keystrokes and only give the illusion of mentality.  Truly convincing autonomous synthetic characters must possess memories; believe things, want things, remember things."

You won't be seeing a character like Eddie walking around on the street for a little while explains Bringsjord -- Eddie's complex behavior requires the processing power of a supercomputer.  The processing power is leverage to combine traditional logic-based artificial intelligence with computational cognitive modeling techniques.

Understanding, predicting, and being capable of manipulating the behavior of humans is one benchmark of intelligence, and the principles behind how this works in the human mind is known appropriately as the "theory of mind".  The RPI team's research marks one of the largest efforts to date to engineer based on the principles of the theory of mind.  The researchers, implementing the part logic and part math theory, impart on the AI-controlled avatars an understanding of such "human" concepts as betrayal, revenge, and evil. 

Similarly, they employ human-like stages of cognitive development.  For example, Eddie behaves correctly in a false-belief test.  In a typical false belief test a person observers an object, in this case a virtual teddy bear.  When the person leaves the room, another person moves the object to a different location.  Upon the return of the first person to the room, the adult observer expects them to look in the old location of the object, knowing that they don't have knowledge of the move.  However, a child four years old or younger will think that they will look in the new location, not understanding that they couldn't see the move.  In an example of a case where it's right to be wrong, Eddie correctly believed in the "false" location, the proper "human" behavior for a child.

Eddie can also be digitally switched to have adult-like reasoning and make the correct decision.  The reasoning is accomplished by an automated theorem prover.  An interface takes conversational English in Second Life and turns it into formal logic, which is processed by the prover.  A video clip of Eddie in action can be viewed here

The RPI research is sponsored by IBM.  The RPI team's final goal is to place humans in a Star Trek-like holodeck filled with projected virtual characters with human-like behavior.  The researchers say that they could accomplish such a simulation in theory by leveraging the processing power of RPI's Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI) and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC). 

With over 100 teraflops of computing power, the CCNI is the most powerful university supercomputer in the world.  It is composed of massively parallel Blue Gene supercomputers, POWER-based Linux clusters, and AMD Opteron processor-based clusters.  And soon, it may be thinking, just like humans, if the RPI team continues in its success.

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il
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