23 May 2019

Oculus Quest - First Impressions

We’ve just taken delivery of our first Oculus Quest. This could actually be the “breakthrough” VR headset we’ve all be waiting for. Like last year’s Oculus Go it’s a completely self-contained device – no slipping in your phone, no wires to connect to a big expensive PC, it’s just the headset. You use your ordinary phone to control what software is loaded on it – but that just Wifi connects when you want to make a change. The big step up from the Go though is that the Quest has 6 degrees of freedom tracking – this means that not only does it track you as you look around, up and down, it also tracks you as you peer forwards, lean back – or even walk around the room. It does all this through hidden cameras in the headset which “map” the room in 3D (similar to the Hololens), and then track your movement within it – so no need for those Oculus desk sensors or Vive tripods. Graphically it looks fine unless you’re a real purist, and it takes ordinary glasses better than previous models.

Of course the proof will come when we use it for more than games, and the team is already hard at work getting it hooked up to Trainingscapes and Fieldscapes. One key question is how well it works when you have multiple users, each with a Quest headset, in the same room – all not only not trying to bump into other people but also not confusing the tracking. Another potential issue is any hurdles on getting Trainingscapes onto the Quest store – but that should keep us busy over the summer!

For clients Oculus Quest really could be the best solution out there. Slip-in phone devices have never been popular outside of schools, and PC+headset solutions have been too expensive and too cumbersome to deploy. But with Quest you could easily have a box of 6 or 12, turn up at a site or office, hand them out and let training commence!

16 May 2019

Virtual Humans Book Launch Report

We had a great (if late) launch for David's Virtual Humans book in Trinity College, Oxford on a lovely sunny Tuesday this week (hence the dark photos in a wood panelled college room!). David gave a brief overview of the history of the book and then there was a fascinating panel discussion chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation)(busy week for her!), followed by insightful questions from the floor before we all broke for drinks.

Some brief highlights from the panel session:

Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute) spoke about “virtual humans as a new member of the human family” and  problem that there are already too many ethical frameworks for ethical AI ( just like technical standards!).

Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham):

  • talked about AI as being a potentially bigger issue for the future than global warming
  • discussed the idea that humanness/consciousness was the residue once everything else has been transferred to the computer
  • and said that "every Vice Chancellor should get this book” - couldn't agree more!

Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) talked about:

  • The After Wife by Cass Hunter and its exploration of the creation of a virtual human as a transitional grief object
  • The difference between passive, one way, digital grief entities (such as Facebook memorial pages) and more interactive or even active types (such as the Digital Immortals discussed in the book)
  • How some people see the commercial opportunities in Digital Grief - "100% of people die, so just think of the market” - talking about the digital grief industry, and questioning the various motivations within it

Dame Glenys Stacey gave a very favourable review of the book and was particularly struck by the 3 challenges identified: humanness (actually the easier one!), general purposeness and sentience - and the books accessibility to the interested lay reader.

Sir Anthony Seldon addressing the audience

Questions from the floor included:

  • Catfishing by digital immortals
  • AI ethical frameworks
  • The lack of chatbot/AI education in schools & FE/HE
  • When do these debates move out of academic/intellectual circles?
  • How the church confessional model relates to our engagement with chatbots and the objectivisation of roles
  • The potential abuse of power and virtual humans by those with malevolent intent, and
  • A Transhumanist perspective on what our lives will be like dealing with virtual humans #AI

Our thanks to all our friends, colleagues and interested readers and researchers who attended.


Maggi and David

We've also been sent this review  and photo of the event by Professor Liz Gilchrist ( Academic Head of Psychology, Criminology and the Centre for Violence Prevention (CVP) at the University of Worcester).

Professor Maggi Savin-Baden, School of Education held a book launch and signing of her co-authored book, ‘Virtual Humans’ David Burden, Daden Limited and Maggie Savin-Baden, University of Worcester, published by Taylor & Francis, New York , yesterday at Trinity College Oxford.

The event at the Oxford College included a book signing and a debate across a range of academics interested in various aspects of this area within AI, debating the issue: virtual humans a force for good or evil?

Those involved ranged from those studying chat bots, those interested in posthumous virtual identities, theological considering the implications for definitions of humanness and senior academics considering why academia has not engaged with this topic more fully, given the likely impact virtual humans will have on us in the future. The debate covered ethics, philosophy and educational policy and prompted a great deal of deep thinking.   

David and Maggi’s book was described as  a comprehensive and appealing read and summarised as  explaining the present situation in relation to virtual humans and making a good job of signalling the future, including posing some thought provoking questions.  It is said to be written for the intelligent lay reader – and includes a definition of a virtual human, considers the relationship between virtual humans and artificial intelligence more broadly and highlights 3 big issues around virtual humans improving humanness, contributing to increased intelligence, but questioned whether virtual humans could realise ‘sentience’ and achieve full consciousness.

Sir Anthony Seldon the Vice Chancellor of Buckingham  University commended the book and suggested that all VCs across universities in Britain should have a copy of this book to inform their thinking of where we should looking to move in HE….

2 May 2019

Virtual Humans Launch Event

We're having a somewhat belated launch event for David's book on Virtual Humans on 14th May at Trinity College Oxford, 3pm-5pm.  It will feature a panel discussion on Virtual Humans with Sir Anthony Seldon (Vice-Chancellor of The University of Buckingham), Dr Elaine Kasket (author of All the Ghosts in the Machine: Illusions of Immortality in the Digital Age) and Carl Ohman (from Professor Luciano Floridi team at Oxford Internet Institute). The debate will be chaired by Dame Glenys Stacey (HM Chief Inspector of Probation). Plus drinks and nibbles!

If you'd like to come then please sign up at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/virtual-humans-book-launch-tickets-57426124083

4 April 2019

Research on a New Chatbot to Help Support Military Personnel


Military personnel may one day be able to get personalised day to day support for their busy lives thanks to a new project being delivered in response to a MOD Funding Competition. The project is being led by us in collaboration with Altruist Enterprises and the Institute for Employment Studies. Daden and Altruist are both based at the Innovation Birmingham Campus. The competition was run under the auspices of the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), sponsored by the Defence People (which sets the strategy for developing a capable and motivated military and civilian workforce within the MOD). The initial contract is worth £247,720.

The project aims to develop a mobile chatbot application with the intention of trialling it at RAF Fylingdales in North Yorkshire. In creating the application and content the team are working with the military users and managers to identify what support is needed, and also what other information and functionality would encourage personnel to use the application on a regular basis. Military life can require high levels of resilience from Forces’ personal with lengthy separations, frequent moves, deployments, shift-patterns and operational duties all adding to the load.  It is hoped that the app will help to reduce the friction of day-to-day military life, improve mental and physical health, well-being and resilience, support personal planning and development, and ensure that military personnel are more informed, motivated and fulfilled.

The app, which builds on previous work by us and the University of Worcester for the MOD, is designed to work on personal mobile phones and provide personnel with quick, direct, 24/7 access to information and support resources to help both them and their families. The app can also take a more pro-active role, offering up suggestions for short training sessions to help build resilience and well-being, to improve sleep, to manage stress, and to plan future personal development and career progression. It is not intended that the app does everything itself, rather it helps signpost users to trusted and appropriate web and mobile apps and resources, and of course to human support when that is the best way to deal with an issue.

RAF Fylingdales Station Commander Wg Cdr Alun Walton said "The virtual life coaching application will allow RAF Fylingdales serving military and families to engage with different aspects of modern life by embracing ever-present technology. This is a real step in the right direction for welfare and resilience and we look forward to contributing to the development of the application for all of Defence in the future."

David Burden, Managing Director of Daden Limited said, “Having something you can turn to quickly, at any time of the day or night, to get some advice about something that you might not right now want to speak to  another human about can be of real benefit. But from our work in this area so far we’ve been impressed at how mature users can be – recognising when a chatbot system like this is of real help, and when they really are better off speaking to a human.” 

Katie Buckingham, Managing Director of Altruist Enterprises, said “We are very pleased to be involved in such an exciting and worthwhile project. There has been a rising trend in the rate of UK Armed Forces personnel assessed with a mental disorder over the past 10 years. Our team of mental health and training specialists, in partnership with Daden and the IES, aim to provide individuals with the tools to build resilience and maintain positive well-being through the many challenges of military life.”

Dr Alison Carter, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, said “IES cross-sector research found that today’s job entrants - younger people in particular – are comfortable consuming information through technology, automation and chatbots, being handed over to a person when required. This already happens during recruitment and learning, and can be easily applied to cultivating better working lives.  IES is delighted to support this project which we expect will make a positive contribution to the wellbeing and engagement of military personnel.”

The current development phase of the project runs until May 2019, when hopefully approval will be given to continue to the live trial at RAF Fylingdales in the second half of 2019. As with much current MOD funded work there is also a real interest how such developments can also be used in the non-military domain to help grow UKplc. As such we are also developing a “civilian” demonstrator of the concept and talking to business and other organisations about how this could help support their own employees, staff and even students.

29 March 2019

Daden U day - Slack integration

Writing to a slack channel.

At Daden we use slack to communicate with other team members and as a way of passing useful information, jokes and items of interest around the company.

An article on Code Project on how to communicate programatically with Slack grabbed my interest so for the February Daden U day I decided to see how difficult it would be to "talk to slack".

As it turns out it's actually really easy, all the information you need is here...


From start to finish it only to about 15 minutes to have a simple example up and working, so a big thanks to Ryan Peden for writing the article.

Now we are able to write to Slack the next step is deciding what we can do with it. At the moment thoughts are along the lines of getting notifications when web sites throw exceptions as well as integrating some of Daden's many chat bots.

21 March 2019

Digital Catapult Future of Training Showcase Tour

Back in October last year we were chosen as one of "six immersive companies creating engaging and innovative content to revolutionise the way we train" by the UK Government's Digital Catapult. As well as having a system on permanent display down at heir London Headquarters we've also been invited to take part in a touring showcase of VR in training, alongside local companies in each region. The first event was in London, and the second, last month, in Gateshead. The next one is in Belfast on Tuesday 26th March, so if your in Northern Ireland (or fancy a hop across the border from Eire) then we'd love to see you there. Details at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-future-of-training-virtual-augmented-and-mixed-reality-tickets-55902636290

11 March 2019

Daden UDay: Chatbots and Autonomous Avatars in Second Life

For my DadenU Day I spent the time revisiting our code for controlling autonomous avatars in Second Life. The system currently uses the Corrade service (although I had a look for something better), which is certainly a lot more stable than when we last used it a couple of years ago. Corrade is very much an avatar controller, it has no smarts itself (so is like LibOMV in that respect), so we built a small LSL script to provide the interface from Corrade back to our Chatscript server which now forms the core of the bot's brain. The pathway is below:

The first task has been just to re-establish existing functionality before we move on to new stuff. The LSL script reported memory errors (you only get 64k!), so we stripped out the nice-to-haves and got the core working from bot to Corrade to LSL to Corrade to bot.

To get the other functionality back in we have to use an old LSL technique of putting the extra chunks in a new script and then using the llMessage function to call with a set of parameters - very messy as you can't pass much, but still the only way to do it in LSL which has no concept of a script library, shared scripts, or a script to script API!

The final bit was talking to Chatscript. Iain sorted a plain REST API into our Chatscript environment, I uploaded the old Abi (our virtual receptionist) files to the server, and finally we had the whole path with a user in SL being able to ask the Abi/Halo avatar questions about Daden.

Next steps are to start to build some of the Halo "brain" into Chatscript, porting some of our earlier Discourse work, and maturing the LSL interface. The aim is that by December 2019 we'll actually be beyond where we were with this in December 2009 when we were finalists in the BCS Machine Intelligence Competition!