Virtual characters are more than mere entertainment

John-Jules Meyer is a full professor of computer science at Utrecht University. His group works on several aspects of artificial intelligence and agent systems. They work on multi-agent logic, multi-agent programming, multi-agent argumentation and multi-agent learning. He is also the CSO of the Alan Turing Institute in Almere, a company that works on applications of AI for biomedicine and health care. He is the General Chair of Intetain 2016, the 8th EAI International Conference on Intelligent Technologies for Interactive Entertainment (28-30 June 2016, Utrecht, Netherlands)Prof. Meyer tells us about his passion for believable virtual characters and human-computer interaction.

What is the central topic of INTETAIN 2016 and why is it important? What is this event’s vision?

I’d say issues concerning relationships between human-computer interaction and entertainment, and for me, that includes some forms of artificial intelligence. Of course, this is very multi-disciplinary, and I like that very much about the conference.

John-Jules Meyer
John-Jules Meyer, General Chair of Intetain 2016

What have been the recent developments in intelligent technologies for interactive entertainment? What are the biggest challenges that this area is currently facing?

I’m biased here. So what I think are the most recent developments? I’m very enthusiastic about both ‘believable’ virtual characters in games and e-buddies, e-companions and e-coaches. To start with the latter, this is really about human-computer interaction, and may contain forms of entertainment. But of course these are more than ‘mere’ entertainment. They can be real helps in serious business such as health care. Such e-buddies already exist, but still in a primitive and rudimentary form. For me it is challenging to render these companions more intelligent, in the sense that they can converse with a human user in sensible way, can reason about what has been said by the user and his/her needs, and takes appropriate action to assist him/her. This may include helping with the user’s agenda, but also monitoring the user as to medicine use or keeping up with a certain desired lifestyle (non-smoking for instance, or keeping some diet). And for me, the more intelligent and sophisticated, the better ;-). This work on e-buddies is very closely related to the first thing I mentioned, virtual characters, i.e. controlling NPC’s in video games. These also should interact with human users in an adequate (believable) way. We are now trying to look at video games with partners to render them more interesting, including more believable behavior by also including affective aspects (emotions).

 What are your expectations for INTETAIN 2016?

I’m expecting a lively conference with a lot of interesting new results in the field. I especially hope to see a number of applications of AI that will have an innovative impact on interactive entertainment and on science and society, more in general.