Those selected will receive $1K – $25K in support of their Virtual Beings concept.
Edward Saatchi of Fable Studio says virtual beings are already here. Pop music sensation Lil Miquela on Instagram, Mica from Magic Leap, and even Fable’s own Lucy are all great examples of an ever-growing industry of digital humanoid entities.
A “virtual influencer” of sorts, Lil Miquela is capable of expressing a wide range of realistic human emotions that blur the line between CG and reality. In a recent post where she pleads with viewers to check out her latest songs, the virtual personality busted out a variety of realistic facial expressions and showcased open body language. She even goes through a wave of emotions in her voice, claiming that if you don’t listen to her songs, she’s going to eat, like, ten tacos and then cry herself asleep.
In the case of Fable’s Lucy, the main protagonist featured in the studios VR experience Wolves in the Walls, the character is capable of building an emotional relationship with you through machine learning and AI. Lucy remembers conversations that she’s had with you, and can even incorporate that information into future discussions.
Saatchi believes that virtual beings could have a massive impact on our daily lives and wants to see this idea explored and pushed further. In support of this Virtual Being ecosystem, Saatchi is offering a Virtual Beings Grant to potential creators looking to develop their own digital personality.
Talking with VRScout, Saatchi shared his enthusiasm for the project: “Overall, we want to seed a new industry combining virtual assistants, immersive, AI, and virtual influences to support developers who want to move in that direction!”
Unveiled during the Virtual Being Summit this past month in San Francisco, the grant will provide creators and developers with $1,000 – $25,000 in funding in order to allow them to pursue their Virtual Being concept and expand the industry as a whole.
The grant will be awarded in four categories:
- GAMES – How we play with virtual beings.
- ENTERPRISE – How a virtual being can assist us with our work.
- SOCIAL– How a virtual being can connect us.
- EDUCATION – How a virtual being can instruct and educate.
Grant applications are open to all individuals and businesses and must be focused on the idea of Virtual Beings playing a role in any of the above-mentioned categories.
Think about a photorealistic version of someone you admire serving as your personal life coach, or asking for assistance from a humanoid version of Alexa or Siri that you can actually see and interact with. By expanding on the concept of virtual assistants, we could potentially connect with our technology on a personal level.
SocialVR is another area that could be greatly impacted.“SocialVR can sometimes be a lonely experience. Because there are few users of VR today, a virtual being means there’s always someone fun to be social with.”
Saatchi is also asking creators to think about the possibility of IOT (Internet of Things) compatibility, which would allow Virtual Beings to get to know us better by connecting to our various other devices. Then there are the potential enterprise applications, such as a Virtual Being AI doctor capable of personally diagnosing patients from the comfort of their homes.
In an interview with Mia Smith—a VR Developer, recent (Clinical) Psychology Honors Graduate at Skidmore College, and member of the Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology—expressed several concerns, saying, “I can see this possibly skewing your social skills. We need to have real social interactions,” adding “this could take away your ability to interact with people on a real level. You can’t get an instinctual sense of what the person’s about based on perceptual and emotional gut feeling.” Smith then asks the question, “how can a virtual being have empathy?”
Of course, Smith also sees the role virtual beings could play in the assistance of those suffering from various medical conditions, such as autism. Imagine a digital personality that could adjust to the specific needs of any person, allowing them to receive the assistance they need in a natural manner. After all, many people might find it more appealing speaking to a digital human, complete with realistic emotions and responses, than a conventional phone. “We just need to do more research,” says Smith.
Much like current voice assistants, Virtual Beings could one day be accessible from multiple devices—such as computers, VR headsets, and smartphones—in a variety of immersive formats. This ease of access could potentially turn these digital personalities into major aspects of our daily lives. As technology progresses, Virtual Beings could one day become close friends or even members of our families.
While we may only be in the infancy of the Virtual Being industry, the first wave of digital personalities has most definitely arrived. How will they impact our day-to-day lives? For what purpose would they best be served. With the Virtual Beings Grant, Saatchi hopes to kick-start a new wave of creators dedicated to exploring these questions.
Applications for the Virtual Beings Grant are open now until September 17th.