Computer Graphics World

July-Aug-Sept 2021

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12 cgw j u ly • a u g u s t • s e p t e m b e r 2 0 2 1 Baby X The ongoing research into realistic autono- mous digital humans by Mark Sagar, co-found- er of Soul Machines, started many years ago, and a significant milestone occurred at the Laboratory for Animate Technologies (Auckland Bioengineering Institute), which he started. That is where BabyX was conceived around nine years ago. According to Sagar, by combining models of physiology, cognition, and emotion with ad- vanced, lifelike CGI, the group set out to create a new form of biologically-inspired AI. BabyX was its first developmental prototype, de- signed as a stand-alone research project and as an expandable base to feed into commer- cial computer agents, enabling the researchers to explore human behavior models and create autonomous digital humans. Sagar notes that a baby was the most appropriate metaphor for the project, because a baby is like a blank slate. "I wanted to build a computer that could learn, a teachable computer," he explains. "So we started at the very beginning and looked at the absolute fun- damentals of human behavior and learning." To this end, Sagar began collaborating with a developmental psychologist who was exam- ining cooperation in infants. "I thought that's the perfect fit here because we're looking at the way people socially learn to cooperate and interact with other people — which is an ab- solute fundamental of human interaction and, therefore, should be a fundamental of human computer interaction," he says. BabyX's physical appearance is based on Sagar's young daughter at the time, who he scanned while she slept. Initially, the phys- ics-based model was driven by muscles, simi- lar to a VFX system. Later, those muscles were driven by the brain model, which has been un- der development for eight or so years now. You see, BabyX is different than other autonomous digital humans — she has a digital brain. LOOK AT HER NOW! The first simulation BabyX in terms of her appearance and brain development was at six months old, and periodically, the researchers would update the models, stopping at a year and a half, since that is the point when learning explodes in actual children. The group is study- ing human caregivers interacting with children at progressive ages from six to 18 months, examining developmental milestones over that period, aiming for 18 months in their simula- tions. This stage spans learning new words and playing games like peekaboo. "We should be able to replace the real child with BabyX and have the human interact with her as they would a real child, and be able to teach her in the same way," says Sagar. He notes that in the next few months, BabyX will be interacting with real parents and they will be scoring her in the same way they would in human-to-human interactions. At that point, he adds, BabyX should be able to move seam- lessly between tasks and understand context. Sagar points out that the goal is to build a system that is generally more intelligent than that achieved through standard machine learning. Instead of creating a statistical black box, Soul Machines is building a cognitive architecture and models that simulate funda- mental functions of the human brain, and us- ing it to generate the animation. "This is more about creating artificial general intelligence," he says. As a result, the group is using a known template for the work, the human brain, and will build a system that a person can interact with, just as they do an actual being. "This will be a relatable intelligence and will work in the same sort of way that we do. When we interact with other people, we watch their behaviors and form theory of mind and try to guess what others are thinking. So, when we cooperate with them, we're able to have this constant feedback loop," says Sagar. "What you see in the digital human's face and its behavior is reflective of real cognitive and emotional processes, just as they would in an actual person, leading to more intuitive and better rapport and feedback from the digital human." In essence, what Soul Machines is building is an artificial nervous system that can control any creature. Moreover, BabyX has emotions, memories, and can explore, learn casual patterns, and have goals and make plans, in addition to other skills. BabyX runs on a typical computer and "sees" through the computer camera. She can also hear a person through the microphone, and feel objects and humans through a touch screen or computer touch pad, or even a hap- tic device. BabyX receives that information in real time and responds accordingly and appro- priately. "We're trying to make all of the power of face-to-face interactions happen between a human and the computer." For Sagar, the motivating factor for BabyX is looking at the very essence of animation. Cur- rently, some companies use animation loops to generate animation or behavior. Instead, Soul Machines is trying to motivate the behavior, so the behavior is driven meaningfully — the emo- tional context and semantic context affect its next actions. As a result, every movement of BabyX is happening for a reason. "We feel it's important to really get the fun- damentals right. For those doing it the other way, their costs are going to suffer combina- torial explosion because they'll have to keep making special cases for all the missing parts, and they'll keep going and going," says Sagar. "We want digital humans that have much more flexible behavior and intelligence so they can work in all kinds of different cases." Sagar continues: "We're looking at what it takes to create digital humans that are com- pletely autonomous, that are motivated, cu- rious, appreciate beauty, and things like that, the types of things that drive people." To make the problem tractable, Soul Machines is build- ing models of memory, emotion, and cognition in a modular fashion — akin to a LEGO system. A key part of the architecture is how emotion and cognition are intertwined, Sagar notes. Some may say it takes a village to raise a child, but in the case of BabyX, it involves research in key fields, such as advanced CGI, biologically-inspired cognitive architectures, neuroscience, cognitive science, developmen- tal psychology, cognitive linguistics, affective computing, and more. And it's clear she is one smart digital human!

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