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