In ten years artificially intelligent robots will be living and working with us, according to Dr. Mark Sagar, CEO of Soul Machines, an Auckland, New Zealand-based company that develops intelligent, emotionally responsive avatars.
Sagar, an AI engineer, is the inventor of a virtual nervous system that powers autonomous animated avatars like Baby X — a virtual infant that learns through experience and can “feel” emotions.
“We are creating realistic adult avatars serving as virtual assistants. You can use them to plug into existing systems like IBM Watson or Cortana — putting a face on a chatbot,” said Sagar.
Within a decade humans will be interacting with lifelike emotionally-responsive AI robots, very similar to the premise of the the HBO hit series Westworld, said Sagar.
But before that scenario becomes a reality robotics will have to catch up to AI technology. “Robotics technology is not really at the level of control that’s required,” he said.
The biological models Sagar has developed are building blocks for experimentation. “We have been working on the deepest aspect of the technology — biologically-inspired cognitive architectures. Simplified models of the brain,” he said. At the core of the technology, are virtual neurotransmitters that can simulate human hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
With computer graphics, Sagar says he can easily develop virtual humans that can simulate natural movements like a smirk or blinking of the eyes, which is not as easy to replicate with robots. “Robotics materials will have to get to the point where we can start creating realistic simulations. The cost of doing that is really high,” said Sagar. “Creating a robotic owl for example would take half a year or something. The economics are quite different from computer graphics,” said Sagar.
In about five years, Sagar says the system he has created could be used to power virtual reality games. “We want to create VR experiences where users can freely move through a world and the characters start to have a life of their own,” he said. “Once you put your AR or VR glasses on, you will have this alternate populated world of fantastic things that people haven’t even imagined yet,” said Sagar. Soul Machines is currently building the next version of Baby X.