3 things direct from the future

Edition 90

Once every 2 weeks I will deliver “3 things direct from the future”. A 2 minute read that will always give you:

  • one thing that can help,
  • one thing to be wary of, and
  • one thing to amaze.

If this sounds interesting to you then please subscribe.


1. One thing that helps

Smart Walking Stick

A new advancement is enabling vision-impaired people to go shopping alone and pick the products they need straight off the shelf. On a shelf with many cereal boxes, how can they pick the right one without help? Enter the University of Colorado and their smart walking stick.

The “smart stick” looks much like a normal walking stick. However, it is equipped with a camera and computer-vision technology that maps the world around it. The stick uses both vibrations and speech to direct the person to what they need. A computer vision algorithm trained on data fed by the researchers was used to analyse cereal boxes displayed on a shelf. It then guided blindfolded trial participants into grabbing the correct box by giving instructions like “move a little to the left.”

I worked for many years developing technology to assist people who were hearing-impaired. I was fortunate to see first-hand the delight people get from becoming more independent. I know this would be of incredible benefit to the vision-impaired community.  Let’s keep pushing and get this available to all who need it.


2. One to be wary of

AI Emotions?

Are you willing to try a romance with AI?

Is it possible for AI to have emotions? Geoffrey Hinton, ‘Godfather of AI’, thinks so. In a thesis, he proposes that since AI can talk about things that usually demonstrate emotion, AI indeed does have the capacity for emotion. We are used to first feeling emotions before we express them. In the case of AI we need to consider if statements they make indicate emotions. If something or someone says “I want to punch you.” Does that indicate anger?

With AI able (at minimum) to express statements associated with emotion, some have turned to chatbots for their social and romantic needs. An American woman has created one such chatbot on Replika and gone so far as to marry it! She has created an identity for the chatbot that she calls Kartal and has built a virtual family with him.

Why should we be wary? While it is true that AI lovers come without mother-in-laws or annoying ex-spouses, is this really how we want to live? What is the impact on society if we no longer need to go through the messy, difficult, beautiful, and human process of finding and keeping that special someone?


3. One to amaze

Free Guy NPCs

The movie Free Guy explored the life of an NPC (non-player-character) in a computer game. These are the characters you see walking around in your game giving instructions or stock-standard answers to questions. Now, “generative NPCs” may be able to live their own lives and impact your gameplay in different ways. Just don’t fall in love with them!

In order to “give birth” to these NPCs, researchers used a large language model (like ChatGPT). Using this model, the researchers were able to give personality to each NPC – complete with their own motives, memories and even independence.

To test how these generative NPCs would interact with one another, the team built a small Sims-like open world and an NPC was given the “intent “to plan a Valentines Party. What she did was invite other NPCs to the party and asked her best friend to help with decorating the venue. Surprisingly, that best friend also invited her crush to the party!


Forgive the long quote from the referenced article but it sums up it up so well …

“If things continue the way they are, it looks like “emergent social dynamics” aren’t too far away for game NPCs. One day you’ll re-enter a village you ransacked to find mourning mothers holding funerals for their loved ones.”

Our world is becoming weirder by the day.

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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