Selmer Bringsjord gave an interesting talk at our department yesterday on developing synthetic (i.e. simulated) characters. Bringsjord works on artificial intelligence and among other things on how to use AI for generating narratives and games. While simple bots in MUDs and MOOs and virtual worlds can be quite convincing for a while, they usually work on superficial levels, for instance spouting out prewritten responses triggered by a word you typed to them. Mention “music” and the bot will say “My favourite band is X”, for instance. Bringsjord’s team wants to develop the deep structures of synthetic characters, and in particular, they want to simulate beliefs. Imagine The Sims where your characters aren’t just neat, nice and playful, they also relate to each other in different ways depending on whether they believe in revenge or pacifism or where they think that X probably dislikes Y because Y is an avid environmentalist while X and Z care more about personal comfort. The Sims do talk about peace and aeroplanes and such (based on the speech bubbles) but don’t have a sophisticated system of beliefs.
Rather alarmingly, Bringsjord’s team is trying to simulate evil. I suspect I’ve created myself a rather dramatic interpretation of this, which may not quite match with what they’re actually doing. I can’t seem to imagine it outside of the dramatic schema of a film that has probably already been made: the mad scientists who try to simulate Evil, but once simulated Evil of course becomes a rogue piece of software and annihilates the planet by taking over the network, causing wars, distorting the media, deviously changing innocent emails to create utter havoc until a group of unacknowledged but quietly heroic nerds ir better yet hackers thought to be malicious but actually deeply ethical somehow tame the program reestablishing stability and love to a shocked but now wiser world.
Bringsjord wants to simulate an evil character because evil is an ingredient in a lot of stories, and he’s interested in using AI in interactive narrative and entertainment. I don’t suppose the evil synthetic character will really be capable of destroying the world. And the presentation was mostly about other things, robots, architectures and projects, all interesting. But I stil can’t stop plotting that movie in my head.