#2. My virtual world requirements – Good AI

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This is the sixth item of a list started in the previous entry, “#1. My virtual world requirements – The basics.”

Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is one area where both single player and multiplayer online games have a huge advantage over Second Life right now, but that, again, is by design. SL is an environment today where you can enter the world, travel to a location, and interact with people. You can create, buy, or otherwise get clothing, buildings, furniture, avatar attachments, vehicles, weapons, and buildings.

You can add simple or relatively complex scripting to objects so they respond to your actions or your mere presence. These scripts can respond to physical objects so that gravity can take its place among the forces acting upon you or other objects. All that said, I’ve yet to see a script that really mimics an intelligent object representing a person much beyond the classic capabilities of Eliza (sometime called “Alice” in later incarnations).

A standalone game is just that, namely you and the computer. Any “human life” activity coming from the computer-generated characters is designed into them via programming and rule systems. Imagine this: you are playing a member of the Star Wars rebel forces and you wander into a bar filled with Imperial Stormtroopers. Sensing that you are an enemy, one and exactly one of the stormtroopers turns and fires at you. Which one is it? The closest? The most powerful?

You turn and run out the door. The stormtrooper runs after you, avoiding tables and passing cleanly through the door. You get outside and discover that there are three more stormtroopers waiting for you. How did they find out?

But wait, you say, I’m not playing a Star Wars game on my computer or the online Star Wars Galaxies!

Well, how about if they were gnomes, dwarves, orcs, night elves, blood elves, trolls, mages, warlocks, morgs, or any of the other characters in an offline or online game like World of Warcraft?

But stop, you say, I’m not some sort of cybergeek gamer, I use SL for serious work. I interact virtually with my distributed team. I engage with my customers for pre-sales, post-sales, and consultations. I’m further establishing my brand for the new, young online-savvy global audience who will be my next customers. Or maybe I’m a politician and I use SL to reach out to my constituency even though I am far away and doing all those things legislators do when they are away from their districts.

Ok, then, imagine this: you are online and your avatar wanders into a Second Life consumer electronics retail store. Sensing that you are a potential customer, a human-looking but non-human customer associate-bot walks over to you and asks if it can be of assistance. Which of the several bots is it? The closest? The one that dresses most like you?

You turn and run out the door. The bot runs after you, avoiding displays and passing cleanly through the door. You get outside and discover that there are three more customer associate-bots waiting for you. How did they find out?

More seriously, but keeping the bot, for how long could you have a conversation before you realized that there isn’t a human in there? What if at some point the bot silently handed you off to an actual human who then took over the remainder of the conversation? What would it take in terms of programmed skills and rules to allow the bot to get as far as possible toward completing the sale?

Not everybody spends every minute in multiplayer online virtual worlds engaging with other people (albeit represented by avatars). There are some tasks such as building that are not inherently group activities, though they can be. Having skilled AI bots could 1) provide company, but also 2) perform useful tasks.

Having the ability to add sophisticated AI to objects and faux-avatars (that is, avatars without people behind them) would significantly extend the SL experience. To do this, the LSL library would probably need to be extended for efficiency, and the rather small limit on the size of scripts would need to be lifted or at least increased. Offhand, I might even guess that another programming language might be necessary.

This is doable and it might even be in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised if good AI capabilities weren’t in the initial design specs for a future virtual world following on SL’s pioneering path.

Previous: “#1. My virtual world requirements – The basics”
Next: “#3. My virtual world requirements – World-to-world scenarios”

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