Invited Speakers

Jeremy Bailenson
Stanford University

Infinite Reality: Revealing the Blueprint of Our Virtual Lives

Over time, our mode of remote communication has evolved from written letters to telephones, email, internet chat rooms, and videoconferences. Similarly, collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) promise to further change the nature of remote interaction. CVEs are systems which track verbal and nonverbal signals of multiple interactants and render those signals onto avatars, three-dimensional, digital representations of people in a shared digital space. In this talk, I describe a series of projects that explore the manners in which CVEs qualitatively change the nature of remote communication. Unlike telephone conversations and videoconferences, interactants in CVEs have the ability to systematically filter the physical appearance and behavioral actions of their avatars in the eyes of their conversational partners, amplifying or suppressing features and nonverbal signals in real-time for strategic purposes. These transformations have a drastic impact on interactants’ persuasive and instructional abilities. Furthermore, using CVEs, behavioral researchers can use this mismatch between performed and perceived behavior as a tool to examine complex patterns of nonverbal behavior with nearly perfect experimental control and great precision. Implications for communications systems and social interaction will be discussed.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin
University of California, Santa Cruz

Toward a SimCity of Stories

The experimental game Prom Week — released this year — creates dynamic stories as players pursue goals for a cast of characters with detailed desires, relationships, and histories. The design of Prom Week builds on lessons from the history of character-driven digital media, including Eliza, Tale-Spin, The Sims, and Facade. Now lessons are being learned from audiences encountering Prom Week, providing a new lens on the past and pointing toward an agenda for the future.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin is Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he co-directs the Expressive Intelligence Studio, one of the world's largest technical research groups focused on games. He is also incoming program chair and director of the Playable Media group in UCSC's Digital Arts and New Media MFA program. Noah's research areas include new models of storytelling in games, how games express ideas through play, and how games can help broaden understanding of the power of computation. He has authored or co-edited five books on games and digital media for the MIT Press, most recently Expressive Processing, which has just been published in paperback. His collaborative playable media fictions have been presented by the Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and a wide variety of festivals and conferences. His newest collaboration, Prom Week, is a 2012 finalist in the Independent Games Festival at GDC and is featured in the 2012 IndieCade showcase at E3. Noah holds both a PhD and an MFA from Brown University.

Rolf Pfeifer
University of Zurich

On the role of embodiment on the emergence of cognition: "The four messages"

Traditionally, in robotics, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, there has been a focus on the study of the control or the neural system itself. Recently there has been an increasing interest into the notion of embodiment in all disciplines dealing with intelligent behavior, including psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. In an embodied perspective, cognition is conceived as emergent from the interaction of brain, body, and environment, or more generally from the relation between physical and information (neural, control) processes. It can be shown that through the embodied interaction with the environment, in particular through sensory-motor coordination, information structure is induced in the sensory data, thus facilitating categorization, perception and learning. The patterns thus induced depend jointly on the morphology, the material characteristics, the action and the environment. Because biological systems are mostly "soft", a new engineering discipline, "soft robotics", has taken shape over the last few years. I will discuss the far-reaching implications of embodiment, in particular of having a soft body, on our view of the mind and human behavior in general: Cognition is no longer centralized in the brain, but distributed throughout the organism, functionality is "outsourced" to morphological and material properties of the organism, which requires an understanding of processes of self-organization. Because in "soft" systems part of the functionality is in the morphology and materials, there is no longer a clear separation between control and the to-be-controlled, which implies that we need to fundamentally re-think the notion of control. The ideas will all be illustrated with case studies from biology -- humans and animals -- and robotics. Finally, I will present some speculations about the relation between real, physical, and virtual embodied agents.

Rolf Pfeifer