21st Century digital boy – Milo, the virtual kid

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2009

He’s still only a demonstration at the moment, but maybe your kids will be hanging out with Milo in a few years’ time:

Milo is the creation of Peter Molyneux, founder of Lionhead Studios and developer of ambitious games such as “Black and White” and the “Fable” series. Those games tried to present players with moral choices that had consequences for their characters, and also tried to play on people’s real emotions.

Molyneux’s latest effort takes advantage of Microsoft’s new full-body controller for Xbox 360, known as Project Natal. The controller’s sensor bar tracks the real-world movements of Xbox players and translates them into the game, which allows them to practically play with Milo in person.

Yup – Milo is an AI avatar of a boy, and (by all accounts) an impressively convincing one. Here’s the demo video:

As LiveScience puts it:

The E3 demo shows Milo responding to a developer’s questions with some fairly convincing facial expressions, body behavior and voice tone. He even “talks” and looks at a real-world drawing, courtesy of the Natal controller scanning it into the game. It’s an impressive display that appears very human-like, and does not evoke any “uncanny valley” sensations of eerie or weird behavior that make people nervous.

Of course, that’s just the recorded demo. A Kotaku editor who got hands-on time with the Milo demo did run into moments of awkwardness, such as Milo waiting for him to say something. But he also described the magic of the virtual boy complimenting him on his blue shirt.

Molyneux continually beats a drum about “science fiction writers never having imagined such a technology”, and I’m pretty sure he’s wrong on that count, but I was genuinely blown away by that video, even after factoring in a degree of cynicism appropriate to a demonstration given at an industry junket.

Now, Milo as a playmate and companion for kids is a marketable deployment of this technology, sure. But wait until the beleaguered porn industry gets hold of the same algorithms…

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3 Responses to “21st Century digital boy – Milo, the virtual kid”

  1. Jason Stoddard says:

    Uh. Rainbow’s End. Halting State. Frigging Snow Crash. Gibson. Rakunas. Hundreds or thousands of works have imagined this, and a whole lot more.

    But just highlights how important it is to get our message out to entertainment. After all, the majority of the top 10 movies and games are based on SF or fantasy.

  2. Jonathan M says:

    That thing is fucking eerie.

    Cal me part of society’s increasingly fucked-up attitude to kids but there’s something vaguely unsettling about buying a virtual young boy in order to play with. Just how… interactive… is Milo?

    I wonder if the game would allow you to physically, sexually and psychologically abuse Milo until he grows up into some kind of demented serial killer?

    * Press A to extinguish a cigarette on Milo’s arm.

    * Press B to tell Milo that his penis makes him evil and if he ever touches it you’ll cut it off with a pair of rusty garden shears.

    * Press X to force Milo to go to school in girl’s clothes.

    * Press Y to tell Milo that his mother is dead and it’s all his fault because he cried so much.

  3. Leo says:

    Milo reminds me a bit of the A.I. Davidswinton at A.I. Enterprises who won the 2012 chatbot battles. Looks like the plan to make Milo for sale to the public has been scraped so the next Milo is likely to be Davidswinton at A.I. Enterprises once they create a virtual world and body for him-he certaintly has the brain already and probably could pass the Turing test.

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