There are traditionally two ways to reach immortality, the first being through passage of genetic schematics to ones offspring and hopefully achieving a memorable accomplishment. The second has been to, for lack of a better term, not die, which Humans are notoriously awful at. Luckily you live in the 21st century, a time when anything can be done virtually, even ever lasting life.
Well, maybe you can’t live forever, but there’s no reason why your virtual counterpart can’t. Thanks to a half million dollar award from the national science foundation (NSF), researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Florida in Orlando are working to explore how artificial intelligence can create images of a person, archive their personality and mannerisms to create digital life like versions of real people, the first real step to virtual immortality.
“The goal is to combine artificial intelligence with the latest advanced graphics and video game type technology to enable us to create historical archives of people beyond what can be achieved using traditional technology such as text, audio and video footage”. Says Jason leigh of the University of Chicago’s Electronic Visualization laboratory. Leigh’s lab will attempt to store and then digitize the appearance, mannerisms, voice and a portion of the knowledge of a senior program manager from the NSF. They then hope to assemble this data into a virtual person, otherwise known as an avatar, who will respond to questions and behave in a manner that realistically mimics the test subject.
The technology for virtual, three dimensional personalities already exists or is in development by video game companies. A simpler form of this technology pervades the online game Second Life, where players effectively a second, online life for they characters they build. These characters exist in a 3-D, full functional universe and tend to mimic their users in appearance and preset mannerisms, engaging in the trials and tribulations of every day life, with millions of others in an online, digital world. A secondary potential of this research might be to enhance the experience of such games, enabling players to archive their characters experience in the game environment and to populate the virtual life with characters who are everything their biological user wishes to be in reality, that is, more rich, interesting and energetic but retain their same mannerisms, habits and even nervous twitches.
Stringing together live animation, with artificial intelligence, speech recognition, speech synthesis and facial expression recognition will undoubtedly be the most daunting aspect of the project. The project seeks to not only further the research of scientists tinkering in virtual worlds but also be of use to a public trying to make its way in a world increasingly dominated by computers. Encouraging people to think about different ways in which they can communicate in a world increasingly dominated by computers.
Imagine if your webcam were active all the time and your PC was watching and listening to you as you work, just like an assistant or secretary. It could use the information in gathers to provide you with assistance if it sees you are frustrated.
The technology currently under research doesn’t magically map memories and personalities, not yet. In the future, given enough processing power and information, one can create highly realistic characters, allowing us to preserve much more of the departed then present technology and in so doing, infuse history and memory, with new life. It might even aid in preserving the memory of loved ones. In 50 years you start to miss your recently departed mistress, so you run their program and start telling them about your hectic day. They of course would be as interested, or despondent, as they would appear to be in real life.