Sunday, March 28, 2010

Could the fusion of games, virtual worlds and artificial intelligence take us closer to building artificial brains?

Novamente is a company that creates virtual pets equipped with artificial intelligence.
As they move forward on this goal they hope the pets will learn to make common-sense assumptions like humans, which could eventually allow them to understand and produce natural language, for example.

One of the biggest challenges faced by researchers trying to imbue computers with natural language abilities is getting computers to resolve ambiguities. Take this sentence: "I saw the man with a telescope." There are three possible ways to interpret the sentence. Either I was looking at a man holding a telescope, or I saw a man through my telescope, or more morbidly, I am sawing a man with a telescope. The context would help a human figure out the real meaning, while a computer might be flummoxed.

But in an environment like Second Life, a synthetic character endowed with AI could use its immediate experience and interactions with other avatars and objects to make sense of language the way humans might. "The stuff that really excites me is to start teaching [pets] simple language," says Ben Goertzel of Novamente.

But other AI researchers doubt that virtual environments will be rich enough for synthetic characters to move towards the kind of general intelligence that is required for natural language processing. Stephen Grand, an independent researcher from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who created the AI game Creatures in the mid-1990s, applauds the Novamente approach, but thinks there are limits to learning inside a virtual world.

"Just imagine how intelligent you would be if you were born with nothing more than the sensory information available to a Second Life inhabitant," he says. "It's like trying to paint a picture while looking through a drinking straw."

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