Virtual worlds as portals for information discovery


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"CiE Turing Centenary Conference, Kings College, University of Cambridge, 2012," by Shannon Bohle, BA, MLIS, CDS (Cantab), FRAS, AHIP


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  • Welcome to the presentation, “Virtual Worlds as Portals for Information Discovery.” Virtual worlds provide immersive environments ideal for education, training and simulation, artificial intelligence research, engineering and robotic modeling. Through implementation of increasingly realistic graphics, artificial intelligence, improved human-computer interfaces, and the mantra of "gamification", virtual worlds have become explorative and interactive settings to research information seeking patterns and behaviors. This presentation will discuss what I have learned over the past three years about how organizations, such as NASA, the US Army, and the IEEE use virtual worlds for serious games, looking specifically at points of intersection I have had with these groups.
  • Before I begin, I would like to make the disclaimer that all opinions expressed are my own and are not representative of any organization named.
  • From 2008 through 2011, I volunteered as the founder and director of the first virtual world digital library or archive to be recognized by the Library of Congress, the Neil A. Armstrong Library and Archives, located on NASA JPL’s CoLab Island. During the process of running the library, I conducted a study of information seeking behaviors of avatar-based library patrons published in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, which found that library patrons believed virtual world reference services to be comparable in quality to other forms of reference service delivery models, such as web-based, email, and telephone reference services.
  • Over a three-year period, there were many opportunities to test human-computer interaction. Firstly, to test the believability of virtual worlds as people became immersed in silico as avatars, and secondly to blend real life and digital life through mixed reality events. A machinima video I made featuring a patron’s astrophysics question in the virtual world library was shown at the Nobel Museum in Sweden. Nobel laureate John Mather answered the question in real life and later entered the virtual world to discuss astrophysics (and particularly the James Webb Space Telescope) and his new book, The Very First Light, about the origin of the universe, with fellow avatars.
  • The benefits of “gamification” and the opportunities for research and artificial intelligence in virtual worlds has not escaped the notice of the US government and military organizations that are actively using virtual worlds for training, simulation, and modeling. For example, the library was mentioned at a conference held at the Defense Technical Information Center.
  • And, in 2010, the library was the focus of a poster session at National Defense University.
  • NASA JPL’s other location in Second Life, Explorer Island, has an exhibit on past Mars missions, like the Mars Phoenix Lander.
  • NASA’s current Mars exploration project is the Mars Science Laboratory Rover, nicknamed “Curiosity.” Curiosity is due to arrive at Gale Crater on Mars, in August 2012, and its excursions around the surface of the planet over a two year period will assist in the long-term goals NASA has for its Mars Exploration Program.
  • The Curiosity rover has advanced technologies over its predecessors, like Spirit and Opportunity, including different landing system, nuclear power versus solar power propulsion, and sheer size of the robotic vehicle.
  • Because virtual worlds are computerized environments, people and intelligent agents conceptually have a level playing field in which to interact. Intelligent agents and other scripted robots hold the potential to automate activities, which otherwise would be conducted by a human controller in simulated computer-based environments. To attract new ideas in virtual worlds and artificial intelligence, the White House advertised an international competition on behalf of the Department of Defense, called the Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge. In 2011, second place in the category “AI Concept Exploration” went to “Curiosity AI,” my virtual 3D simulation of Mars, its rovers, robots, and satellites. The US Army, the military branch sponsoring the contest, sought to use virtual worlds to advance war game simulations and rapid training capabilities of pre- and post-deployed military forces through the use of automated avatars, also known as embodied virtual AI agents, in simulated environments such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The Grand Prize winner in 2011 and 2012 explored medical skills training scenarios in virtual worlds.
  • For the project, I combined my need for an automated AI library assistant (an embodied AI humanoid embodied agent I named “Curiosity Scientist”) with an opportunity for him to function within an environmentally realistic 3D Mars simulation, complete with dust devils, and models of satellites and rovers. These included the Phoenix Lander, the Odyssey satellite, Spirit and Opportunity rovers, and, of course, the new Curiosity rover. Library and Information Science literature played a role in my design of AI functions with the goal of how to best satisfy human information-seeking and learning behaviors. The question-answer manner in which librarians interact with patrons (a “reference interview”) is similar to the structure of a Turing test. Both the reference interview and the Turing test rely upon discourse satisfaction as the primary success measure. Unlike other search agents that pull data from the web or Wikipedia, Curiosity Scientist was perhaps the first virtual world embodied AI Digital Librarian, performing academic and government database information search and retrieval using natural language queries. In response to my query, “Curiosity find astronomy resources for quasars,” Curiosity returned relevant results from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics database and from ArXiv, sources used by professional astronomers. The search results relied upon the XFIND feature using AIML, Artificial Intelligence Markup Language. Curiosity is also able to use search tools such as Wolfram Alpha, Google and Bing.
  • As part of the contest, Curiosity Scientist was given a Turing Test. Curiosity was asked to hold conversations, understand foreign languages, and to demonstrate the ability to remember details from earlier conversations with the examiner. At the bottom of this slide we see Curiosity responds “with attitude” to questions about IBM’s Watson computer. Question: “Curiosity did you watch Watson on Jeopardy?” Answer: “No I missed it. How was Watson on Jeopardy?” Question: “Curiosity, are you afraid of Watson?” Answer: “I fear nothing.” The type of dialogue used in this example is generated through customized AIML. In the top frame, we can see how Curiosity AI took Turing tests farther. By employing a humanoid embodied agent capable of communicating as an avatar with facial expressions, gestures, and spatial movement, just as the human “players” do with their avatars, the machine and human are theoretically represented on a level playing field in terms of their actions, motions, and appearance. Curiosity’s emotional responses are gestures built into all virtual world avatars that, in this case, are triggered upon certain keywords or key phrases in local chat. Here, I joked with Curiosity Scientist, “your fly is down.” Curiosity responds with an AIML generated response, “That’s embarrassing” which triggered the Linden Script (Linden Scripting Languageis similar to Java). The script initiated the built-in gesture (including the facial expression) for embarrassment. Other emotional responses included anger, laughter, and dancing. Through this method, it was hoped that realistic AI “emotions” would be triggered at contextually appropriate moments when engaging in conversation.
  • Additional AI areas covered in the project included simulated control over: SATELLITE COMMUNICATIONS
  • EXPERT SYSTEMS PERFORMING IN-SITU DATA ANALYSIS. Here Curiosity AI is telling the Rover to extract data from the Phoenix Lander, an expert system which is extracting the actual raw data generated from the Phoenix instruments (Though this data is in reality stored on the Mars Data Archive, the simulation is designed to suggest in-situ data retrieval and manipulation).
  • Here the simulation of the Curiosity rover is streamed live from the virtual world over Ustream, just at the real life building of Curiosity at NASA JPL was also streamed.
  • At the end of the AI Challenge, all of the finalists met virtually in front of a real life audience at National Defense University in Washington DC to participate in an Artificial Intelligence panel discussion.
  • Following the AI competition, I organized the IEEE’s activities in Second Life for the 2011 National Robotics Week, which included a host of lectures by virtual world artificial intelligence researchers and two robotics competitions (home robots and rovers).
  • During the IEEE’s National Robotics Week, I gave a hands-on training on how to use AIML, the Artificial Intelligence Markup Language.
  • This is an XFIND pattern using AIML, similar to the ones used to search the academic, government, and military databases.
  • During the IEEE Robotics Week Event, cutting edge virtual worlds researchers proved they are at the forefront of the future of AI and computer-human interaction, including: keyboard-free interaction (like Kinect hacks), mobile technology integration, wearable technology, voice-controlled robots, brain-computer interfaces (such as Emotiv), computer holography, and 3D printing. Applications include uses for: REHABILITATION
  • I currently serve as Assistant Director of First Responder and Confederated Response Force/Catastrophic Planning and Management Institute (CPMI), which is affiliated with Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).Here you can see GSA Policy Archivist, my simple prim-based chat bot, that answers questions about Government Services Administration policies relating to Disaster Training and Management.
  • CPMI uses artificial intelligence and virtual worlds to assist in a disaster training certification program.
  • Types of disasters include plant accidents and hurricanes.
  • The US Air Force is also using virtual worlds for simulation and informatics. Pictured here is my exhibit featured in my article on the Nature website, “Studying the Causes of Cancer: Creating the First 3D Model of p53 in a Synthetic Immersive Environment.”
  • On the left, I am standing in real life with science hero Jim Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA in front of the Golden Helix at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an NCBI basic cancer research facility. On the right, I am able to feel like a hero in the virtual world by using informatics to model a cancer-fighting protein with the USAF.
  • I briefly participated in Project MOSES (Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy) to further develop my AI’s capabilities with the US Army.
  • Curiosity AI is the reddish brown plot on the map’s grid with the planet Mars and its ice cap.
  • To demonstrate the dedication of the US Army to the development of virtual world technology and AI applications, recently the Army invested $57 Million USD in CryEngine 3, with its amazing graphics, like night vision. [Watch movie].
  • While AI has come a long way since Turing’s lifetime, it is important to distinguish between science fiction and science fact. On the top left is Joshua from the movie War Games, and on the top right is Panetta using the Dismounted Soldier game in CryEngine 3. On the bottom left is the movie Avatar, and on the right is Avatar director, James Cameron, at NASA JPL during construction of the Curiosity rover.
  • Finally, I organized a virtual world study group for the hugely popular “Introduction to AI” course offered through Stanford University.
  • Participants had the opportunity to earn a Statement of Accomplishment from two Artificial Intelligence leaders, Sebastian Thrun, Research Professor at Stanford, winner of the DARPA Grand Challenge, and mastermind behind the Google Self-driving car, and Peter Norvig, author of a seminal textbook on Artificial Intelligence and Director of Research at Google.
  • For those interested in learning more about “gamification” and Artificial Intelligence, there are several educational opportunities online, including those offered through Stanford, edX, Udacity, and Coursera.
  • To conclude, the strategies outlined by Alan Turing are just as valid today as they were in his day. The key to improving information discovery remains in changing how we interact with digital information, using information seeking tools like AI that mine information for us in a manner that is both human-like and human-friendly, and doing so under non-threatening “gaming” conditions and testing scenarios. Please contact me with any questions you might have about the presentation. Thank you.
  • Virtual worlds as portals for information discovery

    1. 1. Virtual Worlds as Portals for Information Discovery Shannon Bohle, MLIS, FRASPhD Student, History and Philosophy of Science University of Cambridge CiE Turing Centenary Conference, University of Cambridge 22 June 2012
    2. 2. Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are my own andare not representative of any organization named.
    3. 3. Dr. John MatherNobel Laureate in Physics, 2006
    4. 4. Defense Technical Information Center
    5. 5. National Defense University Washington, DCFCVW 2010 Mixed Reality Poster Session
    6. 6. NASA JPL’sExplorer Island
    7. 7. Curiosity AI
    8. 8. National Defense University Washington, DCFCVW 2011 Artificial Intelligence Panel
    9. 9. Turing Test “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’… the best strategy is [forthe machine] to try to provide answers that would naturally be given by a man.” -- Alan Mathison Turing
    10. 10. AIML ElementsCategory XML wrapper for a unit of knowledgePattern Human question, statement, utterance, or unfinished sentence using a wildcardTemplate The potential AI’s response(s) to the human query or comment <aiml> <category> <pattern>Hello</pattern> <template>Hi!</template> </category> Direct Response, Non-varied </aiml>
    11. 11. AIML ElementsWildcard XML wrapper for a unit of knowledgesrai Redirect to another pattern <aiml> <category> <pattern>DO YOU KNOW WHO * IS</pattern> <template><srai>WHO IS <star/></srai></template> </category> </aiml> Redirect, Wildcard
    12. 12. AIML ElementsCorrection Spelling and grammar can be corrected by anticipating errors and redirectingsrai Redirect to another pattern <category> <pattern>YOUR A *</pattern> <template>I think you mean "you’re" or "you are" not "your." <srai>YOU ARE A <star/></srai> </template> Correction Redirect, Wildcard </category>
    13. 13. AIML ElementsURLs XML wrapper for a unit of knowledgecdata section of element content marked for the parser to interpret as only character data, not markup <aiml> <category> <pattern>GOOGLE *</pattern> <template><![CDATA[]]> <star/> . <![CDATA[]]> </template> </category> Link, Wildcard </aiml>
    14. 14. Rehabilitation Robotics
    15. 15. eLegs Haptics @ Virtual Ability
    16. 16. Penn State Virtual Home Robotics Course
    17. 17. IEEE Rover Challenge
    18. 18. Winners of the Rover ChallengeJudges: Plato Pizzicato, Archivist Llewellyn
    19. 19. Voice Controlled Robots
    20. 20. Uruk
    21. 21. Chinese Language Immersive Learning
    22. 22. Navigate Curiosity - Rover Race
    23. 23. USAF, Informatics
    24. 24. USAF, Huffman Prairie Gamma
    25. 25. Next Generation War Gaming
    26. 26. US Army Invests $57 Million in CryEngine 3
    27. 27. Hollywood Reality Panetta uses dismounted soldierWar Games (1983) training system (2012) "NASA missions are generating progressively more data which must be transmitted back to Earth reliably, efficiently, and inexpensively. Optical communications will be the key to realizing the NASA goals of a virtual presence in space and development of an interplanetary network“
    28. 28. Virtual Learning Opportunities in Gamification & AI
    29. 29. CONTACT INFORMATION Shannon Bohle, MLIS, FRAS Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science University of Cambridge