Romancing the Robot: Is AI on the Verge of Making Human Intimacy Optional?

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Romancing the Robot: Is AI on the Verge of Making Human Intimacy Optional?

Spirit AI's Character Engine SDK is blurring the boundaries between human and digital entities.

· AI Zone ·
Free Resource

When the movie Her was released back in 2013, the concept of love between a human and a virtual entity was one that many people, myself included, had never really given much thought to. But as we watched the relationship blossom between Theodore, a recently-divorced writer struggling with loneliness, and Samantha, his charismatic and surprisingly empathetic operating system assistant, many of us began to wonder: Could this ever be possible?

Fast-forward to today and this question isn’t as far-fetched as it once may have seemed, thanks largely to the efforts of London-based software firm Spirit AI. While they have made a name for themselves using artificial intelligence to keep cyberbullying in check, they have also used this same technology to bring us 50 steps closer to the world of Her with Character Engine.

Designed for videogame developers who understand the power of character to drive a story, Character Engine is an authoring tool and SDK that uses natural language processing and machine learning to create virtual personas who not only seem humanlike, but also process their environments in remarkably human ways.

There are a few key components that make this transformation possible. First of all, developers tailor each character’s personality and emotional characteristics in the “Story” section of the tool. They then create their characters’ unique memories in the “Knowledge” section. When players engage with a character, either through speech or text, it then recognizes entities that have been programmed into its “memory” database and dynamically responds based upon the type of engagement – question, greeting, etc. – the emotional tone, and the context. If this sounds a lot like how you or I engage with others every day, that’s because it by and large is.

While such characters powerfully contribute to the vividness of a game’s story, there is perhaps an even more provocative result: Players can express themselves and be understood to an extent previously unheard of in the gaming world. While dating simulation apps like Mystic Messenger and Hatoful Boyfriend have become quite popular in recent years for their abilities to encourage intimate relationships between characters and players, as explained in a recent article in The Guardian, these interactions are ultimately only as deep as the characters’ pre-scripted dialogues. What’s missing is, well, the magic to bring it to life, at least until now.   

“Obviously as the technology gets better and the interactivity increases, we’re going to be able to form closer connections to characters in games,” said AI Specialist Aaron Reed in a recent interview. “They will operate with greater flexibility and ultimately seem more lifelike and easier to connect to.”

While Reed admits that Spirit AI is still decades away from designing a digital character as persuasive as Samantha in Her, it still seems worthwhile to ponder what are likely the inevitable consequences. As Theodore’s friend Amy asks in the film, “Is it not a real relationship” if one’s intimacy is with a digital being? Even if that being’s memories and emotions only substantially differ from our own by the medium that houses them?

artifical intelligence, intimacy, machine learning, natural language processing, relationships, spirit ai

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