Meet Artie, an AI Dog who lives in virtual realityARTIE
This release marks a huge step for the convergence of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI).
In an official blog post today, Google revealed Artie's Adventure, a virtual reality experience featuring a lead dog of the same name. VR is certainly no stranger to adorable animals as titular characters, but where the experience separates itself from most other immersive experiences is its use of another emerging technology: artificial intelligence.
Directed by Armando Kirwin and TJ Fuller, Artie's Adventure incorporates AI-powered characters directly into a narrative VR experience, allowing participants to interact with audiences using voice control. The technology was developed by the Artie team, making use of Google's Natural Language Processing (NLP) capabilities, and built on top of Unity and Google Cloud.
In the interactive adventure, participants help Artie -- a 'Santa Monica surf pup' -- find his way back to the beach. To do so, users talk to Artie and other AI-powered characters in a journey through a stylized rendition of Los Angeles.
Artie with his new friend, VanessaARTIE
"We wanted to create a sandbox world that allowed us to explore how it feels to interact with AI," Kirwin said in an interview with the author. "Our goal was to have fun. We intentionally stayed far away from the uncanny valley of photorealistic characters and instead focused on emotional engagement. More than anything, it's meant to be a conversation starter for more sophisticated AI character experiences. We're hard at work on both AR and VR projects now that will continue to push this envelope."
Though it might at first sound counterintuitive, Kirwin said AI will actually serve to bring deeper emotional engagement to virtual experiences.
"AI characters allow creators to focus on the emotional layer that is missing from current experiences," Kirwin said. "As human beings, we've evolved to want facial expressions and non-verbal communication, such as body language, to derive meaning from each other and form strong connections. The movie industry understands this very well, and now it's time for the AR and VR industries to graduate to playing in this sandbox."
A drone confronts the viewer in 'Artie's Adventure'ARTIE
To Kirwin, this isn't exclusively about entertainment; to him, AI is the keystone to ensuring the kind of deep socialization and interactivity that users will visit virtual worlds to experience.
"For VR it's very simple: you can't succeed at building a fully-believable virtual reality unless that replacement reality is fully responsive to you," Kirwin said. "VR needs to react to you like the real world. This includes the entire environment and everything in it. Creators have already made good progress at making compelling interactive environments -- the work of Owlchemy Labs comes to mind -- so the next step is to focus on the 'virtual people' who populate these virtual worlds."
As a standalone experiment, Artie's Adventure is a powerful exploration of how immersive technologies and artificial intelligence can pair up to create these increasingly human immersive experiences. But the back-end behind these characters have massive implications for the future of nearly every aspect of our lives -- capable of powering everything from workout assistants, companions in autonomous vehicles, and any other persistent virtual or augmented character -- think Tamagotchi pets, except every type of character, and capable of learning and responding directly to users in real time.
Add to that portability across every device, including audio-only devices such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa, and the larger vision of how these characters integrate into our lives in the future starts to materialize.
Frank, another one of the characters Artie meets in his journey ARTIE
"If you want to tell a story in AR, you already know that you probably won't have control over things like the environment, camera -- and yet you still want to craft a narrative that's meaningful, so you end up needing to focus entirely on the characters," Kirwin said. "It's kind of like reducing a movie down to its essence by eliminating props, extras, sets, wardrobe, etc., until all you're left with is the actors. Great actors can perform in a black box and still draw you into a story that will bring a smile to your face, tears to your eyes, or have you on the edge of your seat. So for AR, focusing on AI characters is the most important thing a creator can do right now."
Though there's no official word yet on the subject, a company built around this engine would provide a much-needed service for the XR industry as a whole, and mark a quantum leap in what creators could bring to their own VR/AR experiences. To that end, a website has popped up with job listings for a variety of scientific and technical roles.
Chapter one of the experience is now available on the Play Store via Google Daydream and Lenovo Mirage Solo -- the latter of which uses Google WorldSense to allow for six degrees of freedom (6DoF).
Chapter two will be available two weeks from today, with Chapter three following two weeks after that.