Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Era of the Bots begins in earnest today

Way back on January 19th, NPIRLers had an Alpha preview demo of Easy Babcock's (aka Rohan Freeman; rez: 5/15/2006) Sine Wave Actorbot System, and today this service goes on the market. In the simplest terms, Sine Wave has created a new bot system for use in virtual worlds that enables robots (avatars other than yourself but logged in under a separate account by you = your alts) to work as performing actors and sales bots on your behalf.

Easy Babcock is the avatar sporting the racing flag texture

The cultural and practical ramifications of this are considerable. For one thing, history has shown us that once a technology becomes possible, you cannot sweep it under the carpet... or as someone once said about Napster, "You can't put the toothpaste back in the toothpaste tube." Bots will have their naysayers, and certainly I have been among the loudest to condemn the slovenly and cheating use of alts running off libSL to boost traffic numbers and thus the appearance that a parcel is popular.

I also admit discomfort at the idea of interacting with a bot, but after several discussions with Easy, I am steeling myself to think of them in much the same way I do about my computer, my car, and phone. Actorbots will be there to serve a specific purpose, I tell myself. I certainly would like to have one or two in Real Life to tidy up the house, or rub my tired neck and shoulders after a long day at the computer.

If I were selling clothes, or skins or shapes, or a myriad of other things, I'd certainly want a few of these to show off my wares to their best advantage, especially since no prim count would be added to my land.

For me, and for several others who attended Sine Wave's Actorbot demo, a critical ingredient to the acceptance and success of this enterprise would be our ability to visually distinguish - instantly - between a bot and an avatar that is being actively driven by a human. Linden Lab is simply going to have to step up and make a few important cosmetic changes to address this new phenomenon.

Take a look at this piece of Machinima, where all of the actors are bots. Keep in mind, too, that they all could be enacting any animation that is available in Second Life, and as far as animations are concerned, no one makes better motion capture (mocap) for in-world use than Sinewave; their dance loops are unquestionably the most widely used and popular on the grid.

Here, six freestyle footballers... all actors are bots. Easy estimates it would have taken three times as long to shoot this had they been real actors

Easy explained:

"The system sits on top of libsecondlife for logging avatars in via our servers, and giving them complex routines to perform. It is designed so that anyone can log their own alts into Second Life via our servers and give them jobs - mannequins, salesbots, Machinima performers, live performers, game NPCs, etc.

The bot navigates by moving from prim to prim. We could allow them off-prims and might do that at a later point, but they are set up so that you can only log them in on land where you have build permissions. This way, people can't use them for griefing.

I think their biggest use is in bringing otherwise static environments to life. The bot can also receive money and give objects. A bot can be used for 1. Creating sessions - so that when it's dealing with one person it doesn't try and interact with someone else; 2. Changing outfits on command, and 3. Allowing users to trade and swap the routines they create, so people can build complex sales routines and so on, and everyone can build on them.

In terms of pricing, the cost is $5L per hour that a bot is logged in, which basically covers our server cost, with no upfront fee."

During the demo, Damanios Thetan asked if it is possible to add an API option, "so I can have IM's sent to it, being resent to a URL using REST, where the external server gives the response?" Easy responded, "We're integrating them with CRM systems and so on - we will make an API open."

Click to see large

Not surprisingly, one of the first questions that came up was if the bots could be used by the virtual sex industry. Easy replied, "I haven't shown anyone in the sex industry yet - but I guess there are all sorts of interesting things they will do with a bot like this. Again, I guess it's about how well the operator sets up the bot."

In terms of different applications, he gave us a few examples. "We're working on a satire show. We're getting Real Life impressionists to do sketches, which we will then be capturing in our motion capture studio and broadcasting in here on 'spawn on demand' comedy bots.

"We first used them for a live concert we did with a band called Orbital. We had 800 avatars wanting to come, so we did the show across 12 sims. Of course, the band couldn't be in every sim - but their bots could. You can build a bot to render all sorts of dialogues with other people, and the interactions you create will be completely unique to you."

Osprey Therian asked, "What limits what we can do with them?" Per Easy, "The primary limit is that we tether them to prims - so people don't use them for abuse, and we monitor the servers, so if someone creates a loop for spamming or griefing we shut it down. Bot transparency is an interesting issue!"

"For us, Second Life isn't about 3D per se. 3D just creates space for people to meet. It's the people that count. Bots are an extension of that. We can't all be everywhere, all the time, but our bots can." - Easy Babcock

How will we tell the difference between a bot and a "live" avatar?

Easy explained: "Our bots are all hard-wired so that if you ask them 'are you a bot,' the have to say 'yes,' and tell you the name of the person who's account they are logged under. We've been lobbying Linden Lab to give them different coloured hover text and yellow dots on the map, too.

Some expressed concerns about "live" avatars pretending that they are bots, to which Easy responded, "We can't stop people pretending that they are bots; we can only stop bots from pretending to be people. :) Let's face it, till now, bots are used mostly for behind the scenes stuff and not to the good of the grid. We want to change that and make bots a valuable part of the Second Life community."

Perhaps some people might even appreciate the companionship of a bot.:P I loved what Tooter Claxton had to say... "I have met some of them. They were very nice and patient and didn't mind listening to me talk for three hours about my toe nail clippings collection. It's nice to be able to share your thoughts with people sometimes."

You can visit Sine Wave Actorbots System's HQ by teleporting directly from here.


Anonymous said...

MASA Group, a company specialized in AI for videogames and defense simulation was also featuring an upcoming offering of bots for SL at the Virtual World Conference. Videos available here: www.bravenewbot.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the report, Bettina. A very interesting read.

January 19, 2008, Corro Moseley of Daden Enterprises showed his 'bot named Halo at Sophrosyne Stenvaag's Saturday salon. It was fascinating to see a 'bot looking like an avatar 'out in the open' so to speak. Corro was asked about how much code she was running on, he said approximately 10,000 lines on the outside server.

I did run into someone named Bot5 Inshan the other day. She didn't have much to say for herself. However, she did have 12 picks to the same "sexy" store in her Profile.

- - Corcosman

Anonymous said...

Nice flm, nice text! There is a thread going on at The Avastar about Bots, where I defended the use of Bots for Arts & Education.