Scientist to show off his digital techno baby

Demonstration a highlight of today's TEDxAuckland ideas conference

Dr Mark Sagar also works on film special effects. Photo / Martin Sykes
Dr Mark Sagar also works on film special effects. Photo / Martin Sykes

A New Zealand scientist has developed a computerised digital "baby" which can laugh, cry and interact with the people around it.

Dr Mark Sagar, who has pioneered work on computer-generated faces in movies such as Avatar and King Kong, will demonstrate his latest project, dubbed Baby X, at today's TEDxAuckland ideas conference at the Aotea Centre.

The Auckland University researcher said the project used theoretical models of the brain to create emotions on a digital human face.

"From current theories of how the emotional systems work and how reaction systems work in the body, we're using those things to create artificial nerve signals to drive the face of the digital baby."

He said people would be able to look inside the baby's computer brain and watch how it reacted to outside influences on its emotional state.

Dr Sagar said Baby X was a small first step into a new kind of artificial intelligence, which would learn in the same way as humans.

"The brain is extremely complicated, and you've got to start somewhere. So as a metaphor we're building the model of a baby to show that we're starting off at very basic behaviour. We're seeing if we can make those behaviours believable and real, so that you really feel like you're interacting with a living system.

"Just like a real person, it's unpredictable in what it's going to do, it's learning all the time from its environment, and it's basically experiencing the world just like we do."

Possible uses for the new technology range from helping children with learning disorders to finding a cure for degenerative brain diseases.

Dr Sagar previously worked as the special projects supervisor at Weta Digital. He was involved with the creation of technology for the digital characters in blockbusters such Avatar, King Kong, and Spiderman 2.

His pioneering work in computer-generated faces was recognised with Oscars at the 2010 and 2011 Sci-tech awards, a branch of the Academy Awards that recognises movie science and technological achievements.

The line-up of speakers for today's second annual TEDxAuckland conference includes UN Development Programme administrator and former Prime Minister Helen Clark; the director of Auckland University's Centre for Brain Research, Professor Richard Faull; Maori instrument expert Dr Richard Nunns; the founder of the depression charity Live More Awesome, Jimi Hunt; and furniture and lighting designer David Trubridge.Andrew Laxon


TEDx

Today: Watch the full TEDx conference live on nzherald.co.nz. From next week, we'll replay it and bring you individual speakers. Tickets for TEDxAuckland start at $70 and can be purchased at theedge.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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