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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 10:19 GMT
Games to take on a life of their own
Professor John Taylor of King's College, London
Taylor: Copying the brain's neural networks
Alfred Hermida

Video games of the future could have characters with almost human intelligence, capable of understanding and acting on your commands.

Scientists from King's College in London are working on enabling computers to understand, speak, learn and eventually, think.

They have created a technology called the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) which emulates the functions of the brain's frontal lobes where humans process language and emotion.

"What we are trying to do is generate characters that can understand language by understanding what we mean and respond in a sensible manner," said Professor John Taylor of Lobal Technologies, the company developing LAD.

One of the more immediate areas where the scientists see the technology being used is in interactive entertainment such as video gaming.

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"Imagine you have a group of soldiers under your command as agents and you want them to do different things," explained Professor Taylor.

"If they can understand what you are saying to them, go off and do those things and come back, it is a far more exciting game."

From infant to child

At the moment, the LAD prototype has the learning ability of an 18-month old child. Professor Taylor and his team are confident it could have the intelligence of six-year-old child by the end of next year.

The system works by using neural networks to mimic brain function.

We're trying to put a brain into the speaking system

Professor John Taylor, King's College, London
It then learns language as children do, not through rules and vocabularies, but through association and example.

"The crucial problem about interaction with your phone or your computer is not necessarily that it can recognise the words, but that it knows what they mean," Professor Taylor told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

"We're trying to put a brain into the speaking system.

"It needs to have speech recognition and speech generation technology, but it has to have something inside its electronic head so that it understands and can reply."

Ethical concerns

Professor Taylor compares it to the way an infant learns to attach meaning to the object in its world, before it knows how to speak.

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"What will be very interesting is that they will have an understanding of what is being said as if there is something there, the beginnings of being," he said.

He sees potential uses for the technology in areas such as disability learning, home automation, data retrieval and gaming.

"If you think of civilisation games and the people have, at least in a primitive way, minds of their own, then that civilisation would be far more interesting and far more realistic," he said.

But the idea of these 'intelligent' characters in a video game could cause ethical worries.

"We are in the process of thinking of developing our LAD system so that in the end it itself has its own right to exist," he said.

"If they can become conscious in any way, they could have emotions, and there we do have serious ethical problems."

Professor John Taylor
Creating agents that can understand language
See also:

21 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
10 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
18 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
12 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
11 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
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