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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


By R. Ann Siracusa
In November my first Science Fiction romance will be released. All In The Game is about a romance author who has trouble maintaining relationships with men and physicist, physically trapped in a futuristic video game, who must work together to win, but they are leaders on opposites sides of a war and the artificial intelligence controlling the game has different goals.

Since the scientist is doing research for NASA with advanced Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence technologies, I had to find out about both these scientific topics.

What is Virtual Reality?

In the last decade plus, our society has become familiar with the idea of virtual reality and getting "into" very complex, interactive video games which are very popular (to the tune of $60.4 billion dollars worldwide in 2009).

The beginnings of the concept date back to 1947 with the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, the earliest known interactive electronic game.  The term Virtual reality was coined by Myron Krueger and has been in use since the 1970's, although it has been traced back to the French playwright Antonin Artaud in his book The Theater and Its Double (1938).
In the 21st century, there are many other applications of virtual reality in the fields of computer science, medicine, architecture, engineering, geology, oil exploration, business, military operations, entertainment, and the list goes on and on.
Military - Parachute Training
Business - 3D Teleconferencing
Medical - Medical Simulator, Duke Medical School

Medical - Predicting locations of synapses in neocortex

Virtual reality consists of a computer-generated, multi-dimensional environment that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds, and interface tools that allow human users to:
1) immerse themselves in the environment,
2) navigate within the environment, and
3) interact with objects and other inhabitants in the environment.

While virtual reality is a highly visual experience, displayed on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, there are simulations which include sound, motion, vibration, tactile information, and other special effects to convey the sense of reality. 

In the book The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality by Michael R. Heim, seven different concepts of virtual reality are identified:
1)    Simulation
2)    Interaction
3)    Artificiality
4)    Immersion
5)    Telepresence
6)    Full-body immersion
7)    Network communications

I'm not going to bore you with what all those different concepts mean (like I really understand) other than to say that Telexistence is the name for the general technology that makes it possible for a human being to experience a real-time sensation of being at a place other than where he/she actually exists, and being able to interact with the remote environment, which may be real, virtual, or a combination of both.

It's just like being there.  So my human characters in All In The Game exist in a simulated world.  No, really.  They are physically there.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

One dictionary definition is "The ability of a computer or other machine to perform those activities that are normally thought to require intelligence.  The branch of computer science concerned with the development of machines having this ability."
The Encyclopedia of Science and Religion defines Artificial Intelligence as "the field within computer science that seeks to explain and to emulate, through mechanical or computational processes, some or all aspects of human intelligence.  Included among these aspects are the ability to interact with the environment through sensory means and the ability to make decisions in unforeseen circumstances without human intervention.

Typical areas of research in AI include game playing, natural language understanding and synthesis, computer vision, problem solving, learning and robotics...there is no agreed upon definition of artificial intelligence, primarily because there is little agreement as to what constitutes intelligence.

Humans have been interested in the process of thought for a long time, and the concept of artificial intelligence is based on the assumption that the process of human thought can be mechanized. The ancient Chinese, Indian, and Greek philosophers developed methods of formal deductive reasoning in the first millennium BC, and those methods were expanded further by Aristotle, Euclid, and others. 

The intellectual roots of AI and the concept of intelligent machine is found in Greek mythology. The myth of Hephaestus, the blacksmith who made mechanical servants, and the bronze man of Talos are two of many.  And mechanical toys and models were constructed by Archytas of Tarentum, Hero, Dasdalus other real Greeks.

While intelligent mechanical machines and robots have found their way into writing and literature since the 3th century, it wasn't until after WWII, when modern computers became available, that it's been possible to design and build machines that perform difficult tasks. 

Stanford University Professor of Computer Science, Dr. John McCarthy, says there isn't a solid definition of intelligence that doesn't depend on relating it to human intelligence because "We cannot yet characterize in general what kinds of computational procedures we want to call intelligent. We understand some of the mechanisms of intelligence and not others."

A complicated subject, wouldn't you agree?

All of us have seen and heard about space exploration and the complicated robots used for landing on and exploring planets in our solar system. We've heard about robots used in surgery. Most of us have seen at least photos or TV programs about the machines that build cars, harvest crops, and so on. These are current applications of artificial intelligence.
Mars Spirit Rover exploration robot

Need I say more?

What is Nanotechnology? 

Oh, boy. There is more. But just a few words. I promise.

Nanotechnology is the science and technology of building electronic circuits and machines from single atoms and molecules.

Tiny machines! And when I say tiny, try to imagine that a nanometer is one billionth or a meter, roughly the width of three or four atoms. The average human hair is about 25,000 nanometers wide.

While this is an emerging branch of science, much of it in the research stage, the Nanotechnology Comsumer Products Inventory contained over 803 current products in 2008.

 A great deal of current research is focused on the medical fields, such as the use of manufactured nano-robots to make repairs at the cellular level. Targeted heat therapy is being developed to destroy breast cancer tumors, as are nano-fibers that can stimulate the production of cartilage in damaged joints.

Now, imagine what would happen if we combine artificial intelligence and nanotechnology.

Stop! You're scaring me!
Watch for All In The Game coming in November.


Ana Morgan said...

Tiny and artificially intelligent--sounds like it could be very good --or very bad. What if the human intelligence is merged with the nano?

jean hart stewart said...

I admire all the research you do, Ann. Good for you....Interesting topics....

Adele Dubois said...

Best of luck with your upcoming release. I wish you many sales!


Marianne Stephens said...

Wow...lots of research. I had my own simple ideas of AI and Virtual Reality...but you delved into so much detail that your book will definitely represent the topics.

Erin Thao said...

Tiny and artificially intelligent--sounds like it could be very good --or very bad. What if the human intelligence is merged with the nano?

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