July 14, 2010

Developer Unveils Virtual Human ‘Milo’ For Xbox

Microsoft, along with games designer Peter Molyneux, unveiled a "virtual human" project that reacts to a person's emotions, body movements and voice.

Milo is designed for use with the company's Xbox 360 motion controller Kinect.

The game is the brainchild of veteran U.K. games designer Peter Molyneux.

"I want to introduce a new revolution in storytelling," he told the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Global conference in Oxford.

"Films, TV, even hallowed books, are just rubbish because they don't involve me," he said. "It's a sea of blandness."

Molyneux said that he wanted to create a character "that seemed alive, that would look me in the eyes, and feel real".

Milo was first displayed during a demo at the E3 expo in 2009, but has not been seen since then.

"There was a huge row online about that with people saying 'this can't be real'," Molyneux said.

The demonstration used Microsoft's new Kinect controller, which uses a series of sensors, cameras and microphones to interpret a player's intentions.

An assistant helped Milo learn after being told off by his parents while conducting the demo.

"We're changing the mind of Milo constantly," he said.

"No two people's Milos can be the same - you are actually sculpting a human being. Some of the things you are doing will change the course of his life."

Molyneux said that Milo was built using artificial intelligence developed by his firm Lionhead studios, along with technology that was "hidden in the dusty vaults of Microsoft."

He said that the system exploited psychological techniques that make a person act as if Milo is real.

The software allowed "complete control" over subtle facial elements like blushing and even the diameter of Milo's nostrils, which he said could denote stress.

"Most of it is just a trick - but it is a trick that actually works," he said.

The player egged Milo to squash a snail in his garden during the demonstration.

Molyneux said that commands like these were interpreted by Milo using voice-recognition software along with a database that attempts to interpret the player's intonation and meaning.

He said that these inconsequential events could impact Milo's life later on and how he develops in the game.

"After three-quarters of a hour, he recognizes you," said Molyneux.

"I can promise you that if you are sitting in front of this screen, that is a truly wonderful moment."

He said that later stages of the game allowed a player to explore the landscape with Milo more freely.

"There are lots of adventures - some of which are quite dark," he said.

He said that the technology is still in development and Microsoft has no plans to release it.

However, he did say that the game was designed to be used for millions of people and could eventually become a commercial project one day.

"His mind is based in the cloud," he told the audience. "As millions of people use it, Milo will get smarter."


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