Thursday, November 19, 2009
Yet another triumvirate...
Today I was asked to give a guest lecture into a game development course. The topic of the lecture was character development and artificial intelligence in computer games.
During the lecture I drew on concepts from Reeves and Nass' Media Equation. The idea that a computer can be substituted for a person in a psychological test and the test yields the same results really intrigues me. The shorthand for expressing this equivalence between the human and the machine is: x = y.
As I was going through this material in the lecture it occurred that I had made a similar argument in my PhD confirmation document. In that document I'd quoted Henri Bergson. Henri Bergson in his seminal essay on laughter stated a "new law" of humour, "We laugh every time a person gives us the impression of being a thing" (Bergson 2005, p.28, Original Publication 1911). This project integrates human agency (the scriptwriter and the scriptwriting process) with the non-human agency of the artificial intelligence of chatbots (the interface and the scripted processes). As such, it tests if Bergson's law will stand if it is inverted; will we laugh every time a thing gives the impression of being a person? Again, this tests the x = y logic.
The third arm of this triumvirate of ideas is the concept of the "Uncanny Valley" by Mori. "Mori's hypothesis states that as a robot is made more humanlike in its appearance and motion, the emotional response from a human being to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong repulsion".
My ambition is to create chat-bot characters that can perform humour interchanges and if humour is one of the defining features of 'human-ness' then for a computer to truly be a social actor it must be able to engage in novel, surprising and humorous exchanges. Will my characters fall into the uncanny valley? Will success be measured by the degree of repulsion?
This triumvirate of ideas: The Media Equation; Bergson's 'New Law'; and, Mori's 'Uncanny Valley' all appear to be trying to find a way of describing the hazy boundary between the human and the non-human.
Bergson, Henri. 2005. Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic. Translated by C. Brereton and F. Rothwell. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications Inc. Original edition, 1911, The Macmillan Company, New York.
Mori, Masahiro (1970). Bukimi no tani The uncanny valley (K. F. MacDorman & T. Minato, Trans.). Energy, 7(4), 33–35. (Originally in Japanese)
Reeves, Byron, and Clifford Nass. 1996. The Media Equation: how people treat computers, television, and new media like real people and places. New York: Cambridge University Press.