Rensselaer Magazine
Feature Articles At Rensselaer President's View Reader Mail Staying Connected Alumni News One Last Thing
* *
At Rensselaer

Cognitive Science

Researchers Bring “Second Life” To Life

Researchers at Rensselaer have created a 4-year-old character in “Second Life” that has the capacity to have beliefs.

Researchers Bring “Second Life” To Life

Today’s video games and online virtual worlds give users the freedom to create characters in the digital domain that look and seem more human than ever before. But despite having your hair, your height, and your hazel eyes, your avatar has always been little more than just a pretty face.

Rensselaer researchers are working to change that by engineering characters with the capacity to have beliefs and to reason about the beliefs of others. The avatars will be able to predict and manipulate the behavior of even human players, with whom they will directly interact in the real, physical world.

The team recently unveiled “Eddie,” a 4-year-old child in “Second Life” who can reason about his own beliefs to draw conclusions in a manner that matches human children his age.

“Current avatars in massively multiplayer online worlds—such as Second Life—are directly tethered to a user’s keystrokes and only give the illusion of mentality,” says Selmer Bringsjord, head of Rensselaer’s Cognitive Science Department and leader of the research project. “Truly convincing autonomous synthetic characters must possess memories; believe things, want things, remember things.”

Such characters can only be engineered by coupling logic-based artificial intelligence and computational cognitive modeling techniques with the processing power of a supercomputer, according to Bringsjord.

Controlled by artificial intelligence software based on a rudimentary “theory of the mind,” Eddie recently passed a false-belief test—used to measure a child’s ability to realize that the beliefs of others can differ from their own and from reality—regarded as a major milestone in human development.

“Our aim is not to construct a computational theory that explains and predicts actual human behavior, but rather to build artificial agents made more interesting and useful by their ability to ascribe mental states to other agents, reason about such states, and have—as avatars—states that are correlates to those experienced by humans,” Bringsjord says. “Applications include entertainment and gaming, but also education and homeland defense.”

Bringsjord led the project, with participation from Rensselaer doctoral students Andrew Shilliday, Joshua Taylor, and Micah Clark, as well as undergraduate researchers Ed Charpentier and Alexander Bringsjord.

*   “At Rensselaer” Contents   *
Feature Articles At Rensselaer President’s View Reader Mail Staying Connected Alumni News One Last Thing Back Issues
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute | About RPI | Academics | Research | Student Life | Admissions | News & Events
Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.