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HUMAN-COMPUTER INTERCONNECTION CHARLIE CLARK Professor: Anezka Sebek Class: Thesis 1 - Fall 2011 Web:

Charlie Clark Thesis

Introduction Hal, Terminator, R2-D2 & C3Po… Since the invention

of automatons and computers we have been fascinated with the potential of artificially intelligent “life.” But, to what extent do human beings connect emotionally to electronic beings? This very philosophical question is at the heart of my thesis and is what I will attempt to answer through my research and especially with my final project. My interest in the topic of artificial intelligence is largely driven by the writings of people like Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy as well as my observations and thoughts about the current state of technology and the prospects of the role of technology in the future. Many great minds predict that sometime in the not so distant future, AI will become so powerful that it will rival human intelligence (Kurzweil 1998). Others don’t go so far, but do believe that we will gradually merge our biological bodies with artificial elements in order to extend our lives and our capabilities. Either way, these predictions come bundled with a huge amount of moral dilemmas that humans must ponder, or at the very least acknowledge (Joy 2000). One big ethical question that emerges relates to the qualification of AI as “life.” If we can program something to have similar intelligence as a human (or even an animal) how do we treat said intelligence?

Proposal My proposal attempts to expose this issue. For my

project I will design, program, and implement an online Flash application. This application will be centered on a virtual character with which the user can interact in a way that encourages the creation of an emotional bond between the character (artificial) and the user (biological.) I am not kidding myself in believing that I can create the kind of artificial intelligence that I was discussing above, however, I do believe that by using a combination of features that encourage human emotional reactions, I can achieve the desired result. My character will take the form of an adorable bear and will be driven by basic artificial intelligence that I will program in Actionscript 3. The bear will have a certain level of autonomy, meaning that it will do things seemingly randomly without being prompted. It will also react to some simple human interaction (e.g. Feeding, playing) which will have an effect on its overall disposition. I will use sound, environment and character design as well as back-story to create a setting that fosters positive feedback from the user. Essentially, my application will be more like an interactive art piece than a game, as it will have no points or goals or objectives. I think interactive digital media is the ideal medium for my project, as it will allow me to design an environment

Charlie Clark Thesis

in which users can observe their effects on the virtual character and thus develop a strong bond. I will host my application on the web in order to collect the largest amount of data from the many interactions that (I hope) will occur.

Iterations I have begun prototyping the look and feel of my character. I have also begun programming some basic facial changes that convey different emotions. In my first iteration I create the Bear in illustrator and animated

some basic movements with the timeline in Flash. This turned out to be much too tedious. For my second iteration I drew the bear using only code. This allowed me to incorporate more precision into his movements and because of my simple design, made it hard to notice the

difference visiually. However, in order to make further progress I need to decide what kind of interaction I am going to ask from my user. I need to do further research into precedents and really decide which are the kinds of interaction which keep a user interested the longest – because the longer the exposure to the character, the more attached the user will become. Once I decide what these interactions are going to be, I will need to design a system through which the interactions have an effect – not just temporary cause & effect – but rather a longer lasting effect that is entirely more convincing. Although I believe I have the skills to create a compelling user experience, I will need to read up more on the mechanics of game design in order to find the most effective coding solution to my problem.

Charlie Clark Thesis

charlie clark // AI DNA //thesis mapping pets

move up eyelids move down



move left move right

facial emotion

slant left/right eyebrows go up/down face


open left side up/down

mouth closed

right side up/down

move left/right ears move right/down

body movement

young adults teens

target audience

inflate chest

deflate bigger


stomach smaller


body rotate left/right arms rotate up/down rotate forward legs rotate backwards




emotions creation





sympathy/ empathy

virtual creature

cute animal


teddy bear



human characteristics

care-bear passage farmvile


large emotional eyes

Charlie Clark Thesis

Research The best research sources I have found for my concept come from the writings of scientists and HCI experts. There is a major debate going on about the impact of new technologies on our humanity. Even now, many technologies (social networks) are redefining the way we live and interact, and in this sense we are being “reprogrammed” . In “Is Google Making us Stupid?” Nicholas Carr explores how the web has shortened his attention span and made it hard for him to sit down and concentrate on a long article or text (Carr 2010) This does not relate to AI per se, but it does expose the way we tend to accept technological change without questioning what we may be losing as a result. By making people connect emotionally with my character, I want them to walk away with the realization that they have had a bond with something 100% artificial, and thus hopefully make them really think about the way they interact with technology on a broader scale, and the importance that this technology has in their lives. I want to be clear that I’m not making a critique. I want my project to by more of a meditation – or contemplation – on the meaning of artificial life.

Precedents My precedents for concept include Tamagotchis, the classic virtual pet of our younger years, virtual pet sites like Neopets, and fine art projects like Pussy Weevil (Zurkow 2003). My project differentiates from the two former in that what I am offering is not for profit, allowing me to be much more creative and abstract. It differs from the latter in that whereas Pussy Weevil is humorous, I want my experience to be almost melancholic, and I want there to be deeper human interaction and consequence.

My inspirations for look and feel include beautiful minimalist animations like Betwen Bears ( Hilleli 2010) for environment, the children’s book Where the Wild things

Charlie Clark Thesis

Are (Sendak 1963) and Disney movie Brother Bear (Disney 2003) for character design, and the indie game Aether (McMillen 2008) for atmosphere.

Plans My plans for the near future involve finishing all the animations and conditionals that will create my character’s “personality”. I then need to begin programming all the various mechanisms that will translate user interactions into emotional reactions from the bear. These reactions will result in actions that the user can address, and so on and so forth. I also want to create a back-story and a setting/backdrop to the character as well as a minimal soundtrack. All these details will contribute to making the experience more compelling and creating a compassionate emotional connection between user and virtual character. Production Calendar: Week 7: Finish facial emotion animation Week 8: Implement a few user interactions and re sponses Week 9: Walk cycle and automated states Week 10: Further user interaction and begin design ing setting Week 11: Sound Effects , Soundscape Week 12: Keeping track of Data from interactions Week 13: Polishing interface Week 14: Misc. polishing

Charlie Clark Thesis

Bilbiography 1. Carr, Nicholas. “Is the Internet Making us Stupid.” WSJ, 7 27, 2010.. 2. Zurkow, Marina. “Pussy Weevil.” 2003 weevil/. 3. Joy, Bill. “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” Wired, 8 04, 2000. 4.

Kurzweil, Ray. The Age of Spiritual Machines. Viking, 1998.


Sendak, Maurice. Where the Wild Things Are. 1963.


Blaise, Aaron. “Brother Bear.” DVD


Hilleli, Eran. “Between Bears.” Web,

8. McMillen, Edmund. “Aether.” Web, games/Edmund/aether.

Glossary AI – Artificial Intelligence. In relation to my project this refers to the level of autonomy an depth of interactivity that my character will possess. Bear - This refers to the form I have chosen to embody my virtual character. I picked a bear because they have a cultural reputation for cuteness. Compassion/Empathy – this refers to the capability for human to project ones emotions into a fellow human, or animal, or AI , and relate the emotions that they observe to what they feel themselves. I will use this to harness the users emotions to interact and react to my virtual character. Facial Emotions – By moving certain components of the face I can create a variety of convincing emotions (happiness, anger, sadness, surprise, boredom…) These representations of human emotions are important in order to allow the user to empathize with the character HCI – Human-Computer Interaction. With my project this refers to the basic interactions between the user and the character and the feedback that is given from the character. Personality – Similar to AI. I wish to have my character express different “personalities” in response to different human interactions – anger, sadness, and happiness… Reaction – This refers to my expectations of the user. I hope that by simulating different emotions through my character I can encourage the user to interact with my bear in specific ways. Responsibility – In reference to my character, this refers to the reason for which users will develop a bon towards the character. This feeling will hopefully develop the longer the user interacts.

Human-Computer Interconnection  
Human-Computer Interconnection  

My thesis so far. Check out my thesis website for more info and working prototypes.