The first batch of grants go to radical ideas at the heart of the virtual beings community.
In Edward Saatchi’s professional opinion, virtual beings will have a significant impact on our daily lives. So much so that his company, Fable Studio, launched a grant application back in August that would award creators additional funds to pursue their work in virtual beings. On a much larger scale, the grants were also meant to seed the idea of a possible new industry combining virtual assistants, immersive, AI, and virtual influences.
Each proposal submitted were unique and incredibly diverse in terms of creator and creation, from university students and established artists, to health advocates all across the globe. Submissions explored virtual beings as poets, pet companions, models, historical figures, love doctors, and guides for navigation. Project themes explored concepts including loneliness, wellness, and disease treatments.
Judges meticulously examined hundreds of proposals in search of 6 unique ideas that they felt had a thoughtful vision of a future that intertwined technology with the purpose of empathy.
In an official press release, Jessica Shamash, Judge of the 2019 Virtual Beings Grants 2019 said, “The community came up with almost 100 ideas that showed the variation inherent in this space,” Shamash adds, “We were inspired by the breadth of proposals, which highlight this incredibly expansive industry that is only in its infancy.”
So, without further ado, here are your winners for Fable Studios Virtual Beings Grant 2019:
COALA Guides – Exploring the real world with little helpers
Today’s world is flooded with information we neither need nor want. This information overload is rapidly becoming a burden to every consumer of media and information in general, going so far as to threaten the mental health and wellbeing of people. More often than not, the information you are provided with is overwhelming and just plain unhelpful.
COALA Guides would use virtual beings to help you see your surroundings with fresh eyes by pointing out cool street-art next to you. The guides make you aware of the ancient water pump across the street, where you can actually draw water, or show you tiny memorial stones, which you would have missed otherwise.
FROM THE CREATORS: “We want to create virtual beings that serve as a catalyst for how we see and interact with the world around us.”
CREATORS: Léa Ducré: Author / David Bigiaoui: Executive Producer at Cinétévé Experience / Manon Paret: Project Manager at Cinétévé Experience; Cinétévé Experience
ELIZA is a voice assistant that specializes in romance; an expert on cohabitation, all-devouring passions, and penchants of all kinds; a virtuoso of desire and attachment. She is a fictional creation exploring relationships through AI.
You are always at the center of Eliza. She will ask you questions during the course of ‘sound jaunts’. She steadily forms a bond with you by diving into your personal life, much like a very close friend, and she’ll gradually begin to philosophize.
As with any human interaction, the pleasure and enjoyment provided when discussing with a virtual being are strongly related to the nature of the conversation and the perception of your answers and reactions. Sociological studies about voice perception also show that voice plays a crucial role when it comes to chat and bond with someone.
Eliza explores those possibilities.
EATING PANCAKES WITH A VIRTUAL BEING
CREATORS: Roland Arnoldt, Anthony Bui, Mai Arakida Izsak, Kimberly Lin, Brandon Newberg & Asha Veeraswamy New York University
Eating Pancakes with a Virtual Being is an interactive installation that invites you to dine together with a conversational AI and explore how virtual beings can begin to augment connection.
In the United States alone, there is currently a loneliness epidemic. Recent reports estimate that more than 47% of our population experiences loneliness and social isolation. The negative effects of social isolation include higher rates of heart disease, depression, and even a shorter life span. Loneliness is considered by many to be the next public health crisis.
The aim of Eating Pancakes with a Virtual Being is to explore human social interactions with virtual beings in a casual social setting. The diner represents an old-world meeting place for relaxed conversation and we use this symbol of Americana to create a third space for 1-on-1 dining. This is part of a larger project to explore humans communing with AI.
Virtual Immortality: Building the World’s Best Legacy Voice Bot
CREATORS: James Vlahos, Hereafter
We are far from being able to engineer AIs that converse as well as people do. But using currently available methodologies for dialogue systems and voice computing, we have the ability to offer a memory-sharing service that vastly outperforms what people have access to today.
Currently, people save phone messages of loved ones who have passed away just so they can hear their voices. Meanwhile, people use voice platforms like Alexa and Assistant mostly for trivialities like setting timers, dimming lights, and playing music.
The idea of Virtual Immortality came about in 2016. Creator, James Vlahos was facing the devastating news that his father has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In his attempt to preserve precious memories of his father’s life and personality, Vlahos created the Dadbot. A virtual version of his father that iteratively shares his favorite stories, sayings, songs, and jokes. For Vlahos, Dadbot gave him solace, providing vivid and enjoyable reminders of his father.
HAL PARKINSON’S INTERFACE
CREATORS: Ram Devineni, Hal Sirowitz, Minter Krotzer
The poet Hal Sirowitz has been living with Parkinson’s disease for over twenty years, yet he continues to be vibrant and creative. He was one of the most popular poets in the United States in the 1990s and one of the original performers at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe. Hal and his partner, writer Minter Krotzer, have become advocates for people and families struggling with Parkinson’s disease.
Hal Parkinson’s Interface incorporates Sirowitz’s poems into an HTML web voice reactive interface. People with Parkinson’s disease who spend 30 minutes a day reciting his poems using the interactive AI virtual being tool, show dramatic improvement with their vocalization and speech. Hal the poet becomes a virtual being that can help you.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but treatment can improve lives. Often people with Parkinson’s disease lose their verbal skills, but this can be alleviated through daily vocal exercises. Hal Parkinson’s Interface provides users with this interaction and can become the perfect therapeutic tool for people with Parkinson’s disease.
Mahatma Gandhi as a Virtual Being
CREATORS: Varun: ML Engineer and Product Manager, Praveen: Sound Engineer and storyteller, Vatsal: Game Developer( Unity/VR/AR) and facial animator.
During Mahatma Gandhi’s life, he inspired a movement for civil rights and freedom across the world before being assassinated in 1948. He is considered one of the greatest figures in our history. Mahatma Gandhi as a Virtual Being looks to bring his teachings to life that feels face-to-face.
This virtual being experience is just the first of many. The creators look to bring back historic characters like scientists, freedom fighters and activists with whom students can interact with and learn about history in an interactive way that feels natural and can even lead to social-emotional learning in any learning environment.
As mediums to access knowledge are changing, it becomes increasingly difficult to spread the views and teachings of famous historic characters. Virtual beings could become a new digital medium to learn about their contributions to society and most importantly remember and practice their teachings.
Virtual Being Summit
Fable Studio will celebrate each grant winner during the Virtual Being Summit at the United Talent Agency Theater in Beverly Hills. During the full day of programming on November 19th at UTA Plaza, attendees will hear from a range of experts including Doug Roble, Geoff McFetridge, Chris Bregler, and Emma Coats, discussing topics across Digital Humans, Virtual Friends, Virtual Influencers, Conversational AI, Machine Learning, and more.
Each winner will receive between $1,000 to $25,000 in funding to move their project forward, and expand the industry as a whole. As for the projects that weren’t picked, they will be re-entered for the next batch of grant winners to be announced in April!
Virtual beings are an exciting trend, from Lil Miquela and deep fakes, to voice assistants and digital actors. An upcoming film that will bring James Dean back to life as a virtual actor in a new Vietnam era action-drama film has proved a controversial project, bringing the topic of ethics into this ever-evolving conversation.
Feature Image Credit: Virtual Being Summit