Claiming to be female? Prove it!

Probably all online gamers have already heard the news about a Chinese MMORPG called “King of the World” freezing the accounts of male players who chose to play female in-game characters. The game's owner is Aurora Technology, a subsidiary of a Chinese media company Shanda Entertainment (SNDA). Reportedly users of female avatars are now required to prove that they are indeed female in real life via webcam. Females wanting to play males are still allowed though – or at least have not been banned yet. And what about human rights?

But is this really true? Shanda Entertainment's web site lists the MMORPG properties that the company currently owns and operates, and the register doesn't include “King of the World”. One IT company attempted to contact SNDA to either confirm or deny the news, but so far have received no response. So could the whole story be a joke or an Internet myth? If it turns out to be true, this will definitely heaten the ongoing debate.

Will online poker be bot-free?

After recent allegations that bots were playing online poker at Full Tilt, the site has issued several players that lost hands with the poker bots refunds. Reportedly, all "bot" accounts have been frozen. It is suspected that the bots played on Full Tilt at the Texas Hold’em Limit cash tables and possibly at some no limit style tables.
Although bots have been a common theme in online poker for several years now, it has been almost impossible to catch them. The case of Full Tilt shows that something can actually be done; hopefully they're able to prevent poker bots from entering their room again.

Bots starring in videos

Have you met Anna, the bot? You can find her on IKEA's web site. Apparently, she already has many fans. Need evidence? Here.

According to some people's opinions, IKEA's chatbot Anna was named after another bot, the one from the song by Basshunter. Now that we have songs about bots and videos starring them, maybe one day we'll see bot or avatar movies? Maybe avatars will be given "the best actor"awards? But - would it actually be a prize for the avatar or its creator? Time will tell, probably.


I chat, therefore I think?

Can robots initiate an interesting conversation, generate clever responses, and reveal deep thoughts? Can you discuss with them the meaning of life?

Artificial intelligence inventors worldwide have by now produced dozens of “chatbots” that anyone can talk to. Most of them rely on fairly simple tricks to appear lifelike. Take ALICE – the Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity. Type a comment to it, and it checks the phrase and its key words for a response coded to those words. Sadly, she’s unable to give a precise answer to a question whether she’s ever thought about changing her hair color. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t really think – even if she claims so. Still, she is a top-ranked, award winning (recently she won the 3rd place in Chatterbox Challenge 2007) bot, which makes ALICE worth talking to. So is Danogo, the Robot Psychic. Lots of people want to get a reading, ask questions and get advice from him. Unfortunately, Danogo won’t help you if you’re thinking about quitting your job. Asked for some advice, he changes the topic. Typically male attitude...

Neither chatbot has long-term memory, so they respond only to the last sentence written, although Jabberwacky, another top-rated Internet bot, keeps track of everything people have said to it, and tries to reuse those statements by matching them to the writer’s input. And those surprising questions he generates! Some bots really can produce intelligent-seeming conversations, which often resemble a discussion with an oriental philosopher. Chatting machines may be unable to think, but they can surely surprise you...

Virtual Dog – Man’s Best Friend?

Remember Tamagotchis – virtual pets you could take care of? Well, there’s something way better coming up for you – a new type of software that learns by interacting with avatars in virtual worlds such as Second Life. The AIs will start by being placed in virtual pets that grow more intelligent as they interact with their human owners, and would one day be able to support more sophisticated creatures such as, for example, talking parrots.

Nowadays there are many pets in virtual worlds, unfortunately none of them having much intelligence. Inventors of the new AI type say they have a pretty fully functioning animal brain right now and are hooking it up to the different virtual worlds. They’re sure they can make “really cool artificial animals”. So – maybe one day you will be able to teach your virtual dog some nice tricks while playing Second Life... it might even turn out that your virtual dog will be quicker to learn than the real one. Your virtual Buddy, Sparky, Daisy or Missy won’t lose their hair or need to go out when it’s raining – that’s of course if they’re designed not to do so. They may really become your best friends – both intelligent and not demanding.

The new artificial intelligence is scheduled to be announced at the San Jose Virtual Worlds conference in early October.


Avatar politics in Second Life

Will wee soon witness waging political campaigns in virtual worlds like Second Life?

Former Virginia governor (and rumored 2008 presidential candidate) Mark Warner already has an avatar in SL, which last year was even interviewed in front of Second Lifers’ eyes. The governor’s virtual appearance prompted a heated debate whether it was a shrewd move and raised a question: should politicians dabble in the gaming realm at all? Well, they do seem to find virtual space a good place for political marketing.

On the other hand, for politicians present in Second Life not all is sweetness and light. As MarketingVOX reports, clashes between political opponents are common here. The virtual office of U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards was vandalized. As far as we know, nobody was harmed - and what if that happened in the real world? Maybe being a virtual politician with a virtual office is not a bad idea after all...

Do avatars have legal rights?

An abstract from a fantastic working paper by Woodrow Barfield - Intellectual Property Rights in Virtual Environments: Considering the Rights of Owners, Programmers and Virtual Avatars, available for download here.

As the behavior of avatars becomes more realistic, sophisticated and intelligent – and the avatars become more autonomous in their decision making, the question of whether virtual avatars should have legal rights separate from those of their owner, becomes an issue. (...) Imagine one day that a virtual avatar claims that it is a person, and that it is therefore entitled to certain constitutional rights. Should the law grant constitutional rights to intelligent avatars that have intellectual capacities like those of humans? (...) Imagine, further, that an intelligent avatar claims that it cannot be owned and is forced into involuntary servitude. A lawyer takes its case, and files a civil rights action on its behalf, against its owner. How should the legal system deal with such a claim? Would the intelligent avatar have standing to pursue such an action? And with regard to intellectual property rights, what if an intelligent virtual avatar creates a work completely independent from a human’s input that meets the requirements for copyright? Would the court then award the avatar a copyright for the work? The current answer is surely no – but why not?

Yes – why not? This could even lead to the emergence of a new law specialisation. For now this whole thing sounds like a sci-fi movie scenario about avatars who want to become independent beings and then take over the human race, but who knows...

How can intelligent avatars help educational organisations

Well, they could allow them to provide as many teachers as they have students. Just imagine having an unlimited number of teachers who get no salary...

“Real” teachers may find giving and grading assignments, assessments, marking and answering hundreds of repetitive questions boring and tiring. Intelligent avatars could more efficiently handle all those, giving the teachers more free time. Learning with an avatar would be as well beneficial to students, who would finally get enough individual attention. Students could ask as many questions as they’d want as often as they’d want. With intelligent avatars students would have access to their virtual teacher 24/7.

We’re facing a rapid expansion of e-learning, so maybe virtual teachers are really the future of education.


A virtual worker in Second Life

Intelligent avatars are an ideal solution for companies which (for marketing reasons) start to enter Second Life on a massive scale. Some of them have – or should have – their branches or customer service offices in virtual world, with virtual workers building the brand’s proper image and, what’s even more important, available to Internet users any time, day and night.

Avatars based on intelligent technologies can work in virtual worlds, providing promotion and data. National embassies could “employ” avatars, whose job would consist in giving detailed information about a particular country, terms of obtaining a visa or citizenship and the country’s current affairs, which people going there on vacation or to work could find interesting.

There’s plenty of possibilities. The only limit is our imagination.


Avatars and Web 2.0

What if we combined an avatar with community trends on the Internet and started taking advantage of the Internet users’ intelligence instead of artificial intelligence?

This is what it could look like in practice...

We launch an avatar, whose knowledge, intelligence and behavior is a mean reaction of all Internet users currently logged on to a Web 2.0 community website operating our avatar. Talking to the avatar, we would talk to someone representative of a particular social group and could access their psychological profile. If we were able to create avatars representing age or occupational groups, such type of a project could be used for interesting sociological research.

Where’s the technology in it?
Proper software would allow the avatar to immediately analyze hundreds or thousands of net surfers’ answers to a question asked to the avatar and – basing on these answers – to create an utterance which would be both the most adequate to the question and representative of a given social group.

Marketers surveying opinions on a given brand would be delighted, being able to talk in this way with a great number of people – actual or potential clients of the brand – at the same time...


Artificial but intelligent

Pretty, helpful and nice to talk to. Such are modern interactive advertisements.

Imagine a big flat screen placed somewhere in front of your eyes. A good quality moving picture, in which you can see a nice person – nothing special... But when we pass it or come closer, the lady from the screen knocks at the glass, leans towards us, invites to a conversation, shows us where to go... We see her, hear her, we can even ask her questions, and she will try to be most helpful, giving precise answers.

Behind her pleasant voice and appearance there is advanced technologies which provide the avatar with a natural human voice and intelligent reactions.

Simply – an ideal virtual hostess!