Making digital babies – going face to face with Baby X

Attendees at the Auckland TEDx event this weekend got a glimpse of the future when they met Baby X, the brainchild (literally) of Academy Award winning Kiwi, Mark Sagar.

Pitched as the future of artificial intelligence, the baby reacts to visual stimuli and responds in real-time with appropriate human-like emotions.

As you can just about make out from the video above, the Baby X system tracks the face of the person looking at it and attempts to interpret the emotions of the viewer, which it will then reflect back through its own animated visage.

I was lucky enough to get some time inside Baby X’s “nursery” (actually a tricked out tunnel) with the creator himself.   During the demonstration, Mark asked us to hide out of view of the baby’s sensors, and the baby responded by becoming upset and crying.  As its mood changed, so did the coloured LED’s within the tunnel, moving from happy orange to a disgruntled blue.

According to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, multi Academy Award winner Sagar (formerly of WETA), and his Laboratory for Animate Technologies, has been working with New Zealand industry to develop a system that creates its own expressions and emotions, and can think and react.  Mark told the New Zealand Herald that the project used theoretical models of the brain to create emotions on a digital human face.

The overall effect is quite intuitive.  You can imagine its potential uses in video games of the future where the game (and characters within it) can respond based on the players emotions.

Who really knows what the future holds for Baby X though.  She may end up working in a bank (meet your new virtual teller!) or she could go on to become our first planetary president.  Either way – I’m sure her “dad” Mark will be quite proud.


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