Monday, August 10, 2009

What Project Natal Means For The Future

A friend of mine recently introduced me to Milo.

Milo is part of a new video game program called Project Natal. While I'm not exactly the most well-versed individual when it comes to video games, I truly have never seen anything quite as interactive as this. The Wii is probably the closest thing to it, but you always have your feet grounded in our own reality as you try to hit the tennis ball with your controller. Project Natal goes much beyond that. The invention of Milo gives us a step in to a new virtual reality. Milo talks to us. Really talks to us. He can recognize us and he can detect our emotions based on facial expressions and the tone of our voice. He, too, acts remarkably like a real person. He tricks us (or does he?) in to believing that he understands us and that he comprehends what life is like for humans. It's both exciting and frightening all at once.

I'm sure many of you have watched films like A.I., Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I, Robot (and have probably read the novels behind them.) This is obviously not a new concept. And while Milo is still technically trapped behind a screen, how much longer til we can touch him? Will we be able to buy companionship soon enough? What are the implications of this kind of technology? How "real" can machines become?

These aren't questions that I could answer nor could anyone off the tops of their heads. On the one hand, imagine all the people who might feel incredibly alone in the world who might be able to have some kind of relationship via this technology? Will it eventually become programmed to educate our children better than a school teacher? The human ego suffers at the thought of being replaced by a machine. But then maybe it will never truly be replaced. Perhaps this is all just speculation and in fact, we will always realize that these are simply games. That we can turn them off at any moment once we're tired of playing. Is it possible, though, for this technology to develop its own consciousness? Maybe that's how humans started. Companions for an older being... taught to replicate and emulate and eventually we took on a force of our own.

Something to think about.

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