Chat Transcript: April 8, 2000
Chat with Andrew Stern

Topic: What is interaction REALLY about?

In an attempt to make stories and art that are more deeply interactive, some artists are programming autonomous "behavior" into their works, applying techniques from artificial intelligence. What new modes of expression does this offer to artists, and how does it work? Join host Deena Larsen, guest speaker Andrew Stern and other e-writers to discuss the implications behind interactivity.

Andrew Stern is a designer and programmer of the interactive characters Babyz, Dogz and Catz from PF.Magic in San Francisco. Along with his fellow creators Adam Frank, Ben Resner and Rob Fulop, he has presented these projects at a variety of conferences including Digital Arts and Culture 99, AAAI Narrative Intelligence Symposium 99, Intelligent User Interfaces 98, and in the upcoming Siggraph 2000 Art Gallery. Catz won a Design Distinction in the first annual I.D. Magazine Interactive Media Review, and along with Dogz and Babyz is currently part of the American Museum of Moving Image's Computer Space exhibit in New York City. The projects have been written about in publications such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, Wired and AI Magazine. Andrew Stern is currently collaborating with Michael Mateas on an interactive drama project. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California. Andrew Stern's webpage, with a comprehensive set of links to virtual character and interactive story projects can be found at Other links:

Related Links

-- Log Started: Saturday, April 8, 2000 12:43:25 pm CDT

sleddog stops in to see what's what

sleddog waves

Deena says, "Hi sleddog"

sleddog says, "I'm early. (grin)"

sleddog says, "My name is actually Ann. I'm hailing in from Chicago. I got your email re the ELO chat and am just checking things out..."

Deena says, "No problem. I am fixing stuff up, but please check out the eliterature chat links. Andrew, our guest"

Deena says, "is doing fascinating things with interactive artificial intelligence"

Deena says, "Would you like to be on a list announcing our twice monthly chats?"

sleddog hmms. I signed on with a different mud client. I won't bother you... I can imagine you're busy.. where can I find the links?

sleddog says, "I'd love to be on your list... ("

Deena says, "Great I will put you on."

sleddog says, "I'm using Savitar... not a browser... where can I find eliterature chat links?"

Deena says, "Ahh.. Do you see a link on the other side saying eliterature chat links?"

sleddog says, "Actually, don't worry about it... I'll log back in on my browser and get them.... :->"

Deena says, "Type @go General Elit chat links"

Deena says, "That should get you there :)"

sleddog says, "AHHHH. Ok. Thank you!"

Tari arrives.

Deena says, "Hi Tari!"

Tari waves

sleddog waves to Tari.

Deena says, "We will start in about a half hour"

sleddog says, "Hi Deena"

sleddog looks at her clock

Tari nods

Deena says, "Meanwhile, check out Andrew's links at the General Elit chat links on the side there"

Tari [to How to MOO]: rest of the world

Tari laughs

Tari says, "I thought those would be busted you can't actually use the exits in this room because they have multi-word names"

sleddog says, "wild"

Tari says, "one of which even begins with 'to'"

Tari says, "which of course invokes stage talk"

sleddog says, "Tari, what's new?"

Tari says, "hardly anything"

sleddog nods.

sleddog says, "Work pretty good?"

Tari nods 'n' nods

Tari says, "what about with you?"

sleddog says, "that's cool. I'm starting a couple of new things here... Hannah is 1... my God...."

Tari says, "woo, and we haven't even met her yet"

sleddog goat grins

AndrewStern quietly enters. AndrewStern says, "Hi all"

Tari waves to AndrewStern

sleddog says, ""

sleddog waves to Andrew

AndrewStern waves

sleddog says, "don't mind us... we're early. Wanted to sit in the front (grin)."

AndrewStern says, "I guess our discussion will begin in about 10-15 minutes... "

Tari [to sleddog]: yay

AndrewStern says, "I'll just shuffle papers and get ready :)"

Deena says, "Hi Andrew"

Deena says, "I was looking away for a bit"

Deena says, "Getting papers ready."

AndrewStern says, "Hi Deena"

Deena says, "I've been looking at your stuff--"

Deena says, "Wow. I am really impressed with the concepts and ideas."

AndrewStern says, "cool!"

AndrewStern says, "It is an exciting area to work on I think"

Deena says, "I had never thought of applying Artificial intelligence to lit and characters, but I can see how that would be an incredible field to work with."

AndrewStern says, "right"

Deena says, "Hi Andre, Ann, Tari"

sleddog waves

Deena says, "We can chat a bit beforehand and get acquainted. "

Deena says, "What are your interests in electronic lit"

Deena says, "Do the links look ok to you, Andrew?"

AndrewStern says, "looks good "

Deena says, "Great. They open in new windows, so people can have them open while we chat. But you know the drill :)"

AndrewStern says, "I may bring up a few of them in the discussion"

Deena says, "Good. "

sleddog says, "I am making a film documentary on "Digital Dig", Oriental Institute, U of C, Argonne. I'm checking out other interesting ways in which people are preserving art/writing/photography/etc."

Deena says, "Ann, are you working with archiving digital material?"

sleddog says, "That was in answer to Deena's question"

sleddog says, "Yes, Digital Dig is a project that will archive digital information "

Deena says, "I'd really like to do a chat on how to archive material. Would you want to be a guest?"

Deena says, "That is a really controversial subject!"

AndrewStern says, "An important one"

sleddog says, "I would probably not be the best person, but I could set you up with one of the chief new technologies engineers on the project... from Argonne national Lab"

Deena says, "Very important, as material now has a shelf life of maybe six months before it is out of date and maybe 5 years before it is unreadable."

Deena says, "We could have several guests..."

sleddog nods

Deena says, "Great. I'll email you."

Deena says, "Ann, Argonne is where?"

Deena says, "Is this project for archiving all kinds of digital material?"

sleddog says, "Argonne IL, DOE lab."

Deena says, "Ahh. I work for Reclamation, so we do a lot of things with Argonne National Labs. "

AndrewStern says, "what's Reclamation?"

Deena says, "The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. We are the Federal water agency west of the Mississippi. We built Hoover, etc."

AndrewStern says, "ah"

sleddog says, "its developing technology to capture digital files in remote locations so they can be reconstructed later in immersive 3-D... their test bed... artifacts in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt"

Relaxed Guest arrives.

Deena says, "aaah, so you are using digital media to archive physical objects""

sleddog nods

Tari [to sleddog]: ooh

Tari [to sleddog]: invite me!

Tari says, "when you go to the site"

Deena says, "Hi, we are just chatting, getting ready for a talk about interactivity with"

Tari really would like to dig stuff up for a living

Deena dreams about going to Egypt to.

sleddog giggles at Tari, Yeah, Jay will let you come along!

Tari says, "well, he can come too"

Tari says, "I'll just keep him out of the way of my shovel"

nm arrives.

sleddog says, "Tari, hey we could just dig in his office! We'd probably find all kinds of stuff!"

Tari moans

Tari says, "or his study"

Deena says, "Hi nm, we are just getting ready to talk about interactivity and artificial intelligence with Andrew Stern."

nm says, "hi deena. great!"

Deena says, "You can see a list of his projects by clicking on General Elit chat links"

Tari [to sleddog]: maybe you could tell him how cool digs are and he'll want to practice at home

sleddog smirks

Tari says, "and explain how if something isn't valuable you throw it out"

Relaxed_Guest leaves for General Elit chat links

nm says, "hi Andrew. I think we've met, at MIT. I was one of Janet Murray's students."

Deena says, "or going to"

AndrewStern says, "Hi! What does nm stand for...?"

nm says, "Nick Montfort"

Deena says, "Yes, please introduce yourselves, if you like."

nm says, "sleddog, I think I know you from the well"

Deena says, "I am Deena Larsen, and I am fascinated with elit and so I write hypertexts"

AndrewStern says, "Are most of you working on ht lit of some kind...?"

Deena says, "Hi Nick!"

Andre leaves for ComMOOnity (Second Dimension)

Deena says, "Andrew, were you also one of Janet Murray's students?"

AndrewStern says, "Nope, but I wish I had been"

AndrewStern says, "I wasn't"

AndrewStern says, "I wasn't at MIT, I was at CMU"

AndrewStern says, "But I've talked her quite a bit, I love her book"

nm says, "you spoke there, though, I think .. at the media lab?"

Deena says, "could you unpack CMU?"

nm says, "media = media"

AndrewStern says, "oh sorry, Carnegie Mellon U, in Pittsburgh"

Deena says, "Hamlet on the Holodeck has a lot of interesting observations."

AndrewStern says, "Yeah I found it helpful"

Deena says, "We could start there for a second. You have a link to her work "

sleddog says, "nm, um I might be someone else.... I am a painter and film maker in Chicago.. Ann Snowberger"

nm says, "the login seems familiar from somewhere"

Deena says, ""

Deena says, "Is Janet Murray's Hamlet on the Holodeck."

sleddog says, "nm, Waterfall Glenn.... or Lambda Moo maybe"

AndrewStern says, "Janet Murray's book talks some about the "nature" of the interactive medium, she breaks down some of its components"

Deena says, "Andrew, could you tell us what you think interactivity is and how that relates to your work"

AndrewStern says, "sure"

AndrewStern says, "I think the question "what is interaction REALLY about?" is an interesting one. I'm not prepared to give any definitive answer on that :-), but I would like to discuss how and why artists could make their works more deeply interactive."

AndrewStern says, "Well, as I navigate the diverse, sometimes confusing landscape of computer-based art, which includes hypertext literature..."

AndrewStern says, "... I find myself searching for works that try to take advantage of the capabilities that, from my experience as a designer and programmer of interactive virtual characters, I know the computer can offer."

Deena says, "Could you describe babyz and petz, your interactive virtual characters?"

AndrewStern says, "sure..."

AndrewStern says, "Petz and Babyz are realtime animated characters that you can directly interact with"

AndrewStern says, "For a glimpse at what playing with Babyz looks like, check out these user's "photos" at"

Deena says, "Have you guys seen these characters?"

Deena says, "Andrew, who were the babyz written for? What is the audience?"

AndrewStern says, "These are little screen shots that users have taken when they are interacting"

nm shares a URL...


AndrewStern says, "Babyz and Petz are CDROM products..."

AndrewStern says, "The idea behind them is twofold:"

AndrewStern says, "We wanted first to create a strong interactive illusion of life."

AndrewStern says, "We tried our best to make the characters seem truly live, and directly responsive and interactive..."

AndrewStern says, "You can "touch" them with a hand cursor, pick up toys and play, feed them..."

AndrewStern says, "They have their own personalities, motivations, goals,..."

sleddog says, "cool"

Deena says, "How do these exhibit personalities?"

AndrewStern says, "Our second big design goal was to allow users to be able to form emotional relationships with them"

AndrewStern says, "Different characters show their personalities by how the choose to react..."

Deena says, "Wow. That is ambitious!""

AndrewStern says, "... or by what they like, dislike, like to do, etc."

AndrewStern says, "It was ambitious. These projects are the result of 5 years of work..."

Deena imagines peopling a book where readers have emotional attachments to characters...

carolyng quietly enters.

AndrewStern says, "...with a team of 10-15 people. "

Deena says, "Hi Carolyn, we are talking with Andrew Stern about his interactive characters."

AndrewStern says, "My role on the projects was to design and program the behaviors of the characters."

Deena says, "That is a large team. How did you get the resources to pull this together?"

AndrewStern says, "So I worked closely with the animators on this"

AndrewStern says, "This was at a startup company, PFMagic."

AndrewStern says, "But what we were making wasn't really a game..."

AndrewStern says, "although technically we're on the shelves in stores with the other computer games."

AndrewStern says, "It's more of a virtual character, an open-ended play experience kind of thing..."

AndrewStern says, "It's bizarre to say the least :)"

AndrewStern says, "But I think there's a lot of overlap between this work and ht lit"

Deena ruefully thinks of bookshelves full of hypertexts that are not books

AndrewStern says, "In this chat I thought it might make sense to look analytically" at the computer medium"

sleddog says, "Are the characters modifiable? Are they able to 'learn' behavior?"

AndrewStern says, "They are somewhat modifiable. They can "learn" what they should or shouldn't do, through simple training. But they will never really learn brand new behaviors, that would be very hard to do"

sleddog nods

AndrewStern says, "- I tend to be analytical& if you take a step back and look analytically at what the computer can do, as a medium for art (be it text-based ht lit or graphically animated VR, what have you), two major capabilities stand out to me. The computer has _autonomy_, meaning it can be programmed to display text, imagery, and video, to play sound and speech. This is more advanced than say, a book or a VCR, because the autonomous, procedural nature of the computer now allows artists to playback these sequences in a more sophisticated non-linear fashion, in real-time. "

AndrewStern says, "(just jump in with your thoughts, or I'll just talk for a little while...)"

AndrewStern says, "Secondly the computer can get input from the audience in the form of text from a keyboard, point-click-and-drag input from a mouse, etc. Having the artwork respond in some way to these stimuli is typically what is called "interactivity"."

Deena says, "Andrew, I'd like to go back to programming behaviors. How do you determine the range of behaviors for a character?"

AndrewStern says, "Well, we think about all the behaviors we would want this character to do..."

AndrewStern says, "For example, take feeding Babyz."

Deena says, "So you define the range up front?"

AndrewStern says, "Yes. We author all the behaviors up front. But, what's interesting is you can get emergent behavior."

AndrewStern says, "By making the behaviors general enough..."

re is asking himself whether more complex 'emotions' will be possible ?

AndrewStern says, " can get them to combine, as the user interacts with them, in novel ways that you didn't anticipate."

Deena says, "Can these behaviors be modified based on the reader"

Deena says, "Yes, can behavior show complex emotion? So combining behaviors can show growth?"

AndrewStern says, "Well, the underlying "variables" for emotions in Petz and Babyz are very simple. But the sum total effect _seems_ very complicated."

Deena thinks about a cat who learns to beg for food by rolling over...

AndrewStern says, "To a large degree we are taking advantage of the "Eliza effect""

Deena says, "What kind of behaviors are these?"

re says, "effect - interactivity ?"

AndrewStern says, "The Eliza Effect is when..."

Julianne quietly enters.

Deena says, "Eliza, as in the computer psychology program that parroted back what the patient said?"

AndrewStern says, "when people attribute more intelligence to the thing than it actually has. (Yes Eliza the psychology program)"

Deena says, "Hi Julianne, we are talking about behaviors in programmed characters"

Julianne waves to everyone, wants them to keep talking...

AndrewStern says, "So while there is some actual AI under the hood in Petz and Babyz..."

AndrewStern says, "... we make it seem more complicated than it really is..."

Deena passes out comfy couches for people who want to spend hours talking to Eliza

AndrewStern says, "by cueing the users with behavior that _seems_ intelligent."

AndrewStern says, "There's a lot of crafting there. It's like theater in a way, I think."

Deena says, "Yes, it really is dynamic theater"

AndrewStern says, "This is a very interdisciplinary area, virtual characters."

re says, "yes in some kind"

Deena says, "As the play depends on the input"

AndrewStern says, "As much as possible, yes..."

Deena says, "How would this work with a complex character, like Tom Sawyer, for example?"

nm says, "Andrew, do you think this sort of AI dissimulation is at all in tension with other narrative goals, such as giving a reader access to a character's feelings and perspectives?"

AndrewStern says, "We've purposely started with simple characters..."

Deena says, "In your paper Multiple Character Interaction Between Believable Characters at, you describe the characteristics of interaction and say that characters should not behave in the same predictable mode --how do you get characters to do different things and still remain a character? Tom Sawyer, should not play hooky in the same way each time, but he should not like to go to school. How do you define a general class of behaviors for the character? "

AndrewStern says, "To answer the predictability question first..."

Deena applauds the notion of starting simply

nm says, "Anyone mind if I put that URL up in the right pane?"

Ivan quietly enters.

AndrewStern says, "the trick is to make behavior that is consistent yet unpredictable."

Deena says, "Yes, please put that URL up"

nm shares a URL...


AndrewStern says, "(That's cool that you can do that!)"

nm says, "You do it with '@url'"

AndrewStern says, "I think I can explain it quickly..."

AndrewStern says, "The Babyz and Petz have lots and lots of behaviors authored for them to do..."

Deena writes that down quickly

AndrewStern says, "at any one moment, they can eat, sleep, play, explore, etc. etc. Their personalities help define which of all of these behaviors they TEND to like to do, more than others. But there is a chance they could do ANY of the behaviors at any time too."

AndrewStern says, "But they tend to do certain ones more than others. We use "constrained randomness" like this a lot. That gives the illusion of free will."

Deena conjures up sleepy, doc, and sneezy, who also do one thing more than others.

AndrewStern says, "We made a set of characters called Oddballz...which were loosely based on the seven dwarfs, actually."

re says, "of the character ? or of the user ?"

AndrewStern says, "pardon?"

re says, "illusion of free will - of the characters or"

AndrewStern says, "of the characters."

AndrewStern says, "The characters seem to have minds of their own, completely autonomous."

re says, ".... in the mind of the user :)"

AndrewStern says, "You, the user, are their playmate/owner/babysitter"

Deena says, "Right re!"

Deena thinks about the deeper philosophical questions of solipsism

AndrewStern says, "What was the question about tension between AI and narrative again?"

re says, "copied from your text --- No computer character can be"

AndrewStern says, "I only got a piece of that copied text..."

re says, "oh sorry --- does not work ---"

re says, ".. it is the last line"

Julenisse_Guest arrives from Help Kiosk

Deena says, "Hi Julenisse. We are talking about interactive characters with Andrew Stern"

AndrewStern says, "Ah okay, "No computer character can be perceived as truly alive and intelligent unless its builders always keep in mind what the final user will perceive.""

Deena shares a URL...


Ivan says, "What kind of behavior models are you using?"

nm says, "Sorry, Andrew. I was asking a question ... similar to the Tom Sawyer one ..."

AndrewStern says, "We wrote our own custom behavior models... goals, plans, scripts that sort of thing."

Deena says, "I put the babyz on the side so you can see the characters. This does require a plug in though!"

AndrewStern says, "Some fuzzy logic thrown in"

nm says, "... about whether this type of believability is in tension with certain narrative goals, like access to the character's internal state, feelings, perspectives"

AndrewStern says, "The Babyz program itself is a CDRom game, it's not Web based. But there is a Web based simple Demo."

Ivan says, "have you looked into any of the PC game video cards that are claiming to incorporate behavior engines into them?"

re has to leave - bye all

Deena says, "So the URL just has a demo to get the idea,,,"

AndrewStern says, "To answer the tension question..."

AndrewStern says, "Um... let me think..."

nm says, "I was taken with Bates's believability concept for a while, and it could certainly be suitable for some types of characters, but I wonder ..."

Deena says, "The babyz can be enemies or friends, so you have a simple type of tension here."

AndrewStern says, "I don't think AI or believability is necessarily in tension with the narrative goals you're talking about..."

Deena says, "Could these types of reactions be expanded into a complex character?"

AndrewStern says, "The characters are like performers, they could express themselves externally or even internally"

sleddog says, "Andrew, do you see a day when these characters could be given... say a script... or a poem... and they would be able to 'present' a dramatic interpretation? "

AndrewStern says, "Over the next several decades I would love to try to make more and more complex characters."

Ivan says, "well, it would _seem_ to me at first pass, reactive entities in a narrative could lend to a more interactive reality"

Ivan says, "whether that's more or less real, I don't know :-)"

Deena says, "How would the work read with complex characters?"

AndrewStern says, "Yeah, I'm interested in interactive drama."

Deena says, "could we get an interactive reality"

Deena says, "Which would differ based on the user's interaction with the characters?"

AndrewStern says, "I'm currently starting a 2-3 year project with a grad student at Carnegie Mellon"

nm says, "Is the goal of art reality?"

AndrewStern says, "We want to build a small but complete interactive drama..."

Deena passes back and forth between art and reality, reality for art's sake, art for reality's sake.

AndrewStern says, "... which uses AI techniques to create the _illusion_ of intelligent characters that you can have dialog with."

sleddog says, "Andrew that sounds really interesting... very"

AndrewStern says, "We will not be making them truly intelligent, of course."

Ivan says, "I'd like to build the fully automated demo, much like a museum exhibit, but more complex"

Ivan says, "I'm trying to program myself out of the less fun things I do"

carolyng "thinks art isn't reality?"

Deena tosses out future museum passes to see these exhibits

Julianne says, "Andrew, I 100% agree with your point about needing BOTH scientists and artists to do deep interactivity. Sounds like you're practicing what you recommend."

AndrewStern says, "I'm interested in drama, which is not really reality."

AndrewStern says, "Trying to, yes :)"

Deena Stage whispers to Carolyn, hard to tell sometimes.

carolyng nods. Too true.

Deena says, "Andrew, how did this team combining artists and scientists come about?"

AndrewStern says, "Here's a paper on the "narrative intelligence" behind Babyz, in which I talk about some of these issues:"

AndrewStern says, "Hmm good question...."

AndrewStern says, "ooh the url got cutoff"

AndrewStern says, "great"

AndrewStern says, "Well it was a lot of luck really."

AndrewStern says, "I was at a startup company, where the founders were very visionary people"

Deena thinks that visionaries usually need a lot of luck.

AndrewStern says, "They brought together, somehow, a core group of artists and programmers who clicked very well."

AndrewStern says, "For about 3 or 4 years we just worked hard and cranked out the Petz, and then this last year, the Babyz."

AndrewStern says, "It was a rare situation, to say the least."

Deena says, "Is this making enough to keep making complex characters?"

Ivan says, "I was late sorry, who do you mean by we?"

Deena thinks about the huge amount of resources necessary....

AndrewStern says, "We, meaning a team of about 6 programmers, 5 artists and animators."

Deena says, "Andrew, what is the name of the company?"

Ivan says, "right, is there an institution or business...loses"

AndrewStern says, "It *was* PFMagic, it's gone now."

Deena mourns the loss of a practical visionary company

carolyng thinks of Brenda Laurel's also lost Purple Moon

AndrewStern says, "But now I'm trying to take what I've learned from the experience, and make a more personal project, an interactive drama."

AndrewStern says, "Purple Moon's death and PFMagic's are related actually"

Ivan says, "really?"

AndrewStern says, "Both companies got bought by Mattel."

carolyng says, "How so?"

Ivan says, "oh, I see"

Deena sets aside a moment for all the wonderful ideas that have fallen by the wayside

Ivan says, "so that's not death"

AndrewStern says, "And now Mattel is kind of crumbling at the moment, hence the suffering of the teams."

carolyng says, "Urgh. How does the private sector compete with something as powerful as Mattel?"

AndrewStern says, "Well, it's not so much I think you have to compete.."

Deena says, "Yes, these ideas take a lot of time to develop. How can we create these characters? "

Ivan would call that success

Deena Tosses out life preservers

AndrewStern says, "But I think to make things more deeply interactive, it requires _programming_."

Ivan says, "You guys did something so well, a giant company came it and swallowed it up"

AndrewStern says, "That's business... :-\"

Ivan says, "and presumably paid quite a bit for it"

nm says, "The programming part I can agree on"

carolyng says, "But these big companies rarely do this kind of innovative work, do they?"

Deena doodles the small fish getting eaten by the big fish, and so on...

AndrewStern says, "Actually not really (I'm not rich if that's what you're thinking. :-}"

AndrewStern says, "I was just an employee, not a founder."

sleddog says, "It seems like a natural step to develop believable-interactive-modifiable-characters through -just what he's proposing- interactive drama- developing more complex characters which can present a range of emotions.... interactively... awesome"

nm says, "Although I am still wondering how deeply inter character the AI brand of interactivity can get"

Deena says, "Right, how do we keep the innovation?"

Ivan says, "no, but you're doing what you want :-)"

AndrewStern says, "Well, let me say a few words about how I think this can be done..."

Deena plots to get opening night tickets to the first interactive AI character ...novel? play? world? game? whatever. :+>\

AndrewStern says, "As I was saying earlier..."

AndrewStern says, "The computer has these two amazing properties: autonomy, and reactivity."

AndrewStern says, "I feel it is when an artist combines autonomy and reactivity that you can achieve a deeper form of interactivity (not just reactivity). That is, if the computer "listens" to what user "says", then autonomously "thinks" about what was said (important!), and then "speaks" its thoughts back to the user, then you've got something more like a _conversation_, a dialog"

Deena listens very intently for Andrew's plot on how we can create these characters...

carolyng thinks of Neal Stephenson's interactive book/plays in _The Diamond Age_.

Deena says, "Carolyn, do you have a URL or address for that handy?"

AndrewStern says, "The Diamond Age was a really cool vision of it, yes I agree"

AndrewStern says, "It is a novel"

carolyng says, "It's a novel. A good one."

AndrewStern says, "And of course, the Holodeck is another vision of it."

Deena resolves to go to the paper library and get it.

AndrewStern says, "No doubt these things are a LONG way off."

AndrewStern says, "but to me that's what interactivity should be, a conversation (not necessary a literal one though. Tickling the babies in Virtual Babyz can be thought of as a conversation)."

Ivan says, "funny you should mention the holodeck"

AndrewStern says, "Why is conversational work more interesting? Because a piece of art that can converse with the audience can customize its behavior, its message, for that audience."

Deena says, "Yes, but how can we get started on these kinds of characters? What technology and programming is available now?"

AndrewStern says, "That's a good question..."

AndrewStern says, "Unfortunately I have no answer for you."

Deena Passes out tickets to the holodeck opening

sleddog LOL!

AndrewStern says, "I'm programming in C++, I've got a masters in CS..."

Deena says, "Andrew, did the Petz and Babyz team program everything from scratch?"

AndrewStern says, "yes"

Ivan [to Ivan]: help

Ivan says, "yay, I figured it out"

AndrewStern says, "not to be to depressing, but to create a computer-based artwork that captures the processes at work in a conversation requires programming. "

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: so, there seem to be a few things that need to be worked out

Deena scratches her head, knowing she can't program her way out of a sea of Cs.

AndrewStern says, "I think there is no escaping the fact that to make an artwork deeply interactive is fundamentally to build a machine with processes; anything less would simply be a reactive work without autonomy."

AndrewStern says, "I'm going to be giving a talk on this subject at Siggraph this year, so if you're there please come check it out, it'll be the "No Art Jargon" panel."

carolyng says, "So you think that every interactive programme has to start from square one, be a unique interface?"

AndrewStern says, "no, not necessarily unique..."

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: for example, in order for anything to learn, it really has to have a set of examples to extract "fuzzy logic" type answers from

Deena says, "Will your paper be available online?"

AndrewStern says, "yeah, eventually"

Ivan [to sleddog]: does that mean we should go?

Deena says, "HOw hard would it be to transfer the Petz and babyz programming to another use or character?"

AndrewStern says, "I'm just saying that programming is required to make a work more conversational."

Deena Thinks about the potential market for a software that let people tailor characters and avatars...

AndrewStern says, "The Petz "engine" was used to create the Babyz characters."

AndrewStern says, "There are companies trying to make tools like that, Deena."

AndrewStern says, "But they're not there yet..."

AndrewStern says, "I'm a bit selfish, I'm not in the mindset to make tools..."

Deena hands out empty toolboxes to all.

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: there could be a reasonable disconnect in the development however, between the "Memory" (DB of experiences, gotten via some sensory input), "Appearance" (the Avatar, of sorts), and the "Behavior Engine" (the real work of what you are talking about)

sleddog [to Ivan]: yeah lets go to New Orleans

Deena changes her mind and fills them with cold pop and beer.

Julianne says, "Andrew, if you have time, talk more about the all-important part of the conversation where the computer "thinks" what to say next. You've talked about the decisions processes in lots of detail in your paper, but why is this step vital? (non technically)"

AndrewStern says, "It takes so long to just make the technology that I want to immediately make works with it, not tools."

carolyng straps on her tool belt

AndrewStern says, "Okay, let's quickly talk about the thinking part"

Deena says, "Siggraph will be good. Noah Wardrup Fruim will show hypertexts there."

Deena says, "Yes. How do we think about interactivity with what we have now?"

AndrewStern says, "Yes, Noah is chairing the panel I'm on"

AndrewStern says, "um, let's see..."

AndrewStern says, "In Petz and Babyz we achieved this by writing a program that is continuously "listening" for what user does - what toys they play with, what they touch or say. Users can gesture to the characters - touching them, waving toys in front of their faces, trying to spoon-feed them vegetables, etc."

AndrewStern says, "The characters have their own internal set of "goals" and motivations - I like to play with this or that toy, how hungry or tired am I, what is my personality, my preferences, how do I feel about what has happened to me recently (emotions), etc."

carolyng starts designing a virtual bib

Deena whispers to Julianne, see how the usability fits in here again!

AndrewStern says, "So At every moment, when deciding "what to do next", the characters take all of these things into account - how they are "feeling", what the user is doing, what is possible to do at this moment - to make a decision. "

AndrewStern says, "It's a much more indirect decision-making-process than what happens when you click on a hypertext link with a fixed connection to another block of text."

Deena says, "Side note to all, this works well with last week;s chat on usability, and the archives will be up at"

Julianne says, "And that's what leads to the "emergent game play"?"

AndrewStern says, "Yeah that was an interesting discussion"

AndrewStern says, "Yes, I think so"

AndrewStern says, "it was a bit of a surprise to us"

Deena says, "So you have to set up the character, see how users react, and then determine the set of links based on the user's reaction..."

Ivan says, "Do your "actors" have the ability to self-modify?"

AndrewStern says, "not a whole lot."

Ivan nods

Deena Thinks about the layers of complexity needed for self modification and shudders

AndrewStern says, "I'm curious, how averse are ht lit people to programming? Like in Director, say?"

carolyng thinks about plastic surgery for the psyche

AndrewStern says, "or in Java?"

Deena says, "Wow, that really depends. Some program well --I've programmed a lot in HyperCard. Others have used and abused Director. I am learning Java to do some effects."

AndrewStern says, "I realize it's a controversial thing to say, that deep interactivity requires programming."

carolyng says, "More and more, artists and authors are moving into these types of programming, as the tools become more versatile."

Deena says, "I wrote a paper on the willingness of artists to program for this year's HT00."

AndrewStern says, "Do people feel their works could be better if they were "more interactive"?"

Ivan says, "programming is the paintbrush of the digital painting"

Deena says, "Right. It is really hard to write and program from scratch, but if a template is available, we can work within that template--and stretch he template to meet the needs"

AndrewStern says, "Deena is that paper available yet?"

sleddog [to AndrewStern]: I'm interested in your definition of conversation, and how that will translate into dramatic presentations....(thinking out loud) can you talk a little more about that vision?

carolyng says, "I think that's the ideal. Interactivity is the grail quest."

Deena thinks of old arguments on stretching ones own canvas

AndrewStern says, "Definition of conversation, sure..."

Deena says, "I can send it to you, but it will be in HT00's proceedings ("

AndrewStern says, "For me conversation generally means:"

AndrewStern says, "the computer is able to "listen" in some way, allowing the user to be as expressive as possible"

AndrewStern says, "people really want to be able to be expressive, to communicate"

AndrewStern says, "then the computer somehow "thinks" about this input. In the case of virtual characters...."

AndrewStern says, "the characters use the user's input to help them "decide" which behavior to do next."

AndrewStern says, "Then the characters choose their next behavior."

carolyng says, "Listening is a lost art. Interesting to hear (heh) it discussed in the context of it being something that technology needs to learn."

CyberSpik arrives from Courtyard

Deena says, "HI CyberSpik. We are talking about how characters can listen to readers "

AndrewStern says, "I think if there was an ht lit piece that seemed to be able to listen..."

AndrewStern says, "it would be very well received."

carolyng says, "How wonderful. I agree."

Deena thinks about Tom Sawyer sitting down to listen to anyone and rolls out laughing

AndrewStern says, "I think video games are currently the most popular form of interactive media now because they give users more expressivity than any other forms (although I feel they're by and large still too limited). "

AndrewStern says, "And too juvenile of course"

Deena says, "I think that some ht can judge mood by where people click--Rob Kendall's collection system does a bit of this"

Deena says, "Connection system"

Deena says, "Right now, it just provides a series of possible links based on what the user has previously chosen."

Deena says, "Something like his Dinner for Two from East gate."

Ivan says, "ht means hypertext?"

Deena says, "Yes, Ivan. Sorry for the shorthand :)"

AndrewStern says, "I've been impressed with how much you can do with "simple" interactivity... I don't mean to say that more interactivity is necessarily better. People want to be able to express themselves! If the artist somehow gives the audience/reader a way to do that, I think "new media" works will become much more accessible and popular. But that's very hard to do, I think."

CyberSpik says, "there are a number of video games especially the rp or adventure ones that have complicated narratives and strive for interactivity between players and non player characters"

Ivan says, "So, a path through hypertext is only one sample, of a users state"

Ivan says, "to be sensed"

carolyng says, "We still need to train our readers and ourselves to be more than passive listeners. "

Deena says, "Marble Springs, my first work, lets people write into the work. That was a crude attempt at this. I think the characters need to listen and people need to be able to write back and make the work theirs in a deep fundamental sense"

Ivan says, "making computers/digital things able to perceive would be interesting and is part of what we do, currently"

Deena says, "Yes, reading as entertainment and reading as interaction are very different..."

AndrewStern says, "it's really, really hard to do though."

carolyng says, "I recently wrote a text that includes an interactive component. Instead of extending the text, most readers have written literary criticism."

nm says, "The thing elit has to offer to characters like these is a rich context in which some actions that aren't inherently meaningful can be powerful and interesting."

Deena Nods emphatically at Andrew and rolls up her sleeves

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: making them able to sense things/

Ivan ?

AndrewStern wipes the sweat off his furrowed brow

sleddog [to Ivan]: well, yeah, and if characters could interact with each other and the user...

Ivan hands AndrewStern his cup of water, with ice

Deena says, "Right, readers can go through the richer context to see the connections in hypertext"

AndrewStern says, "ha"

Julianne says, "Whether I am experiencing it or creating it, I want work that sucks people in. Gets them hooked. So they can't stop, can't put it down or turn it off. Programming can absolutely help (but only helps when it supports the achievement of those goalz). The babyz' interaction seems to hook people - great work - now how to apply this power in other ways, we'll just have to try a lot of different things."

Deena Passes around cooling draughts and refreshments to all.

AndrewStern says, "I'm definitely interested to move away from the "pop" cutesy characters to more dramatic ones."

Deena says, "Yes, Julianne, we need to have that hook and see where it can lead."

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: You're collaborating with CMU but located in Berkeley?

Deena says, "Andrew, the cutesy characters help pave the way. but to get the hook, we need deep, complex characters people can relate to."

AndrewStern says, "Yeah, it's a long distance relationship. :-\ I'm flyin g there in a few weeks to work on it."

Ivan says, "eeesh"

Ivan says, "you need what we got"

AndrewStern says, "The internet makes it possible to collaborate remotely"

Deena passes out longer and longer phone lines

AndrewStern says, "dsl is a good thing"

Ivan says, "if you are in Chicago for any length of time, drop me a line"

AndrewStern says, "sure :)"

Ivan says, "I've got a $50k solution that'd make your life less airplane oriented"

nm says, "Deena, I'm not sure more character ability is particularly needed to make serious literature. It could be that the burden of the seriousness is taken up by other elements of the narrative, and the characters play a small but important role."

Deena says, "Any other questions for Andrew?"

AndrewStern says, "There's certainly no one solution... this is just the tack I'm taking."

Deena says, "Hmmm, Nick, what other elements? plt? Sounds intriguing"

sleddog [to AndrewStern]: do you think you will start with some story lines and sketch in characters? Or do you think you will start with characters and see what kind of story they develop?

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: have you integrated an VR/3D into your stuff

Scott quietly enters.

AndrewStern says, "We're developing the story and character in tandem."

Deena says, "Hi Scott, we are talking with Andrew Stern about interactivity"

nm says, "The important and deep main character might be non-interactive, even dead, while the embellishing interactive characters were helping the story along without shouldering a lot of difficult AI tasks that haven't been solved."

AndrewStern says, "No VR/3D per se, no... "

Ivan nods

nm says, "Deena, the other elements might be plot, but could also be the setting"

nm says, "As in Pinsky's Mindwheel."

AndrewStern says, "I think there's tons of ways to structure the narrative..."

Deena says, "Hmmm.. could the setting also be interactive? "

AndrewStern says, "But still I feel strongly that deep interactivity can be gained through this listen,think,speak cycle on the computer's side"

Deena says, "Have you seen Laura's world? The user touches things in the room and Laura, the character reacts."

Deena says, "Julianne, who did that? "

nm says, "Sure, it could transform over time, as in A Mind Forever Voyaging, or by magic, as in Wishbringer, or the player could experience it from different perspectives, as in Exhibition"

AndrewStern says, "I haven't, where can I find it?"

Julianne shakes its head - haven't seen Laura's world

nm says, "I'm spouting off 'IF' (or text adventure) titles, by the way, as is my custom"

Deena says, "Andrew, I think the listen,think, speak is the key, yet it seems to be an illusion. "

Deena says, "Eliza just parrots, she doesn*;t actually listen to the reader."

AndrewStern says, "Eliza isn't really thinking."

Deena says, "How can we get beyond the illusion to truly listening?"

Ivan says, "no, she markov chains"

Ivan says, "which is neither"

carolyng thinks about how old Eliza is...

Ivan says, "parroting nor thinking"

Scott says, "think thinking's the hard part"

AndrewStern says, "I'm looking at AI techniques to help... but a lot is simply DESIGN, not AI."

sleddog says, "I think listening is an illusion"

Deena Hands Ivan an award for the first mention of markov chains and wants an further explanation

AndrewStern says, "All it needs to be is an illusion."

Deena says, "so the thinking on the computer"

AndrewStern says, "It ultimately doesn't matter if the thinking is "fake" or not."

carolyng thinks that Andrew is proposing that it takes an AI system to achieve listening and interactivity

Deena says, "So this thinking can be an illusion set up by going through the many possible scenarios beforehand?"

AndrewStern says, "All that matters is the user/reader/player believes that the characters/story/whatever is listening to them."

Julianne says, "As in Eliza, where all the work of making it "real" actually got done in the "patient's" mind - the illusions here have the same effect, yes."

AndrewStern says, "That's definitely part of the approach I'm taking, yeah"

Deena says, "Good point."

Scott says, "I saw a great project at NYU CAT called "face" that tries to boil down human expression to a few essentials, as few as possible, to give you the impression that the face you see reacts like a human would."

carolyng wants to believe

Deena already believes her computer is more than human

AndrewStern says, "Yeah, that NYU demo is cool..."

sleddog wants to believe

Ivan has disconnected.

Julianne appreciates carolyn's discernment though

sleddog believes Ivan is coming back :->

Deena passes around free passes to believe it. And absolutions, dispensations and indulgences to believe it, too.

AndrewStern says, "I am trying to study and learn from ht lit, to inform my own work"

Deena Notices that it can be anything here.

AndrewStern says, "I like Mark Bernstein's paper on story structures"

Ivan quietly enters.

Ivan arrives.

Ivan says, "that sucked"

Deena says, "Andrew, as you said, there is a lot of connections and relations between the interactive work and AI stuff and hypertext"

Deena says, "Hi Ivan. Glad to see you back."

AndrewStern says, "yeah"

carolyng says, "Interactive work, AI and hypertext all seem to be addressing different aspects of the same problems."

Deena says, "I think, as Nick said, that the setting, context in hypertext could also inform your work. "

AndrewStern says, "Right."

AndrewStern says, "I believe a lot in the power of setting and context."

Ivan shares a URL...


Deena tries to distill down the problems in one sentence, fails miserably, and hands the results around as fine hundred year cognac

Ivan says, "markov chains, and the relation to Eliza"

AndrewStern says, "I think that's a big reason the petz and babyz work well, because of who and what they are, as much as because they have AI and stuff"

Deena says, "Ivan, who is Markov Chains?"

AndrewStern says, "I haven't read this paper, thanks I'll check it out"

Ivan says, "not who, what, but you can read that URL and find out"

AndrewStern says, "it's an AI type of technique"

Deena Ahh. stimulus response chains.

Deena Goes to read and improve her mind...

AndrewStern says, "Here's a good link:"

AndrewStern says, "(how do you post it to the viewer window?)"

Ivan says, "use @url"

AndrewStern says, "This is a collection of recent papers on "narrative intelligence""

AndrewStern shares a URL...


Deena says, "Yes, I had not studied AI since the early 80s..."

AndrewStern says, "These are researchers applying AI to narrative. "

sleddog [to Ivan]: can't you see an immersive experience in the Cave?

Scott says, "here's that cool face thing under facial nuance"

Ivan says, "yep"

Deena says, "Wow. Will there be another symposium like this next year?"

Ivan says, "that was why I asked about 3d earlier"

carolyng rolls the term 'narrative intelligence' around on her tongue

Ivan imagines the following:

AndrewStern says, "there's a related one this fall called "socially intelligent agents""

AndrewStern says, "But I don't know when the next narrative one will be."

sleddog [to Ivan]: like wouldn't it be cool to be inside the story line with these characters that are able to think with you?

Deena says, "Deena thinks about giving narrative intelligence to Tom Sawyer and then floating off in a hot air balloon with him...."

AndrewStern says, "sounds like fun"

Ivan says, "We get our data and have you know, something like a few hundred terabytes, and you could have agents that help guide you along, perhaps with other "actors" actually living there"

Scott says, "Andrew could you email the URL on the agents conference to when it's up?"

Deena passes out awards for socially intelligent narratives an

Ivan says, "I have to say, storytelling is a big thing"

Ivan says, "BIG thing"

AndrewStern says, "sure"

Ivan says, "there are only a few things we've done since the dawn of time"

AndrewStern says, "it is amazingly big"

Deena says, "Ivan, what were you imagining?"

Ivan says, "and storytelling is one of them"

Ivan says, "well"

Ivan says, "we're working on a system to collect data"

Deena says, "yes, and telling stories that move in and of themselves...."

Ivan says, "lots of data, from place people might not be able to go, either now because it's too dangerous, or later because they're disappearing"

Deena hands Andrew an award for the understatement of the year.

AndrewStern says, "thanks :)"

Ivan says, "we envision this will help for a few things, digitally archiving some of our vanishing reality, being our goal atm"

Ivan says, "but we've talked about being able to have a huge database of "Scenes""

Deena says, "Anne, that sounds similar to our work at Argonne to digitally preserve Egyptian relics"

nm says, "Hmm ... different elit creators tend to conceptualize their work as an augmented text, a world, an author, or a character ... and I imagine many insights which are very useful in one context are useless in others."

Ivan says, "places you could use to shoot digital scenes anywhere"

Ivan [to Deena]: it is

sleddog [to Deena]: Ivan is the computer scientist I told you about'

Ivan says, "it'd be like placing your digital characters anywhere you've collected"

AndrewStern says, "well I hope this has been at least a thought-provoking discussion..."

sleddog [to Scott]: are you scott rettberg?

AndrewStern says, "more questions raised than answered, as usual!"

Deena says, "Mind blowing does come to mind..."

carolyng nods energetically

Ivan says, "if they really sense it'd be fun to play a scene inn the desert"

Ivan says, "then replay it at the south pole"

Ivan says, "see what they do differently :-)"

Scott says, "yes, sleddog"

Deena says, "Ivan, that would be incredible to do."

Ivan says, "we also work with something we call Active Spaces"

Ivan says, "our goal is to enable users to interact with spaces, much like Andrew describes characters"

Deena says, "So the setting would become interactive"

Ivan says, "so that the environment would help get your work done"

sleddog [to Scott]: (hiya...nice to see you 'on-line')

carolyng says, "Wonderful!"

Deena says, "I have invited Ivan and sleddog to do a chat on this, probably this summer."

Ivan says, "by learning about users and activities and building up knowledge to utilize to help out"

Deena says, "The next chat on April 26 will also work with performance aspects and interaction--only human to human this time : )"

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: we're working on the intelligent set for your narrative :-)

AndrewStern says, "btw, Here's another cool url, by a veteran of the computer games industry who wrote lots of essays on the nature of interactivity, and interactive story"

Deena says, "Check out for the full list of chats. The log will be there, too."

AndrewStern shares a URL...


nm says, "I wanted to write a story, but there weren't enough people..."

nm says, "I know, let's use the Erasmatron!"

sleddog [to AndrewStern]: I'd be interested in getting on any 'updating' mail list you might have about the Drama project.

Ivan [to AndrewStern]: Me to

AndrewStern says, "I don't have a mailing list about it, but stay tuned to my webpage for further developments"

sleddog nods

AndrewStern says, "it's going to be a 2-3 year project...! gulp"

Ivan says, "Hm"

Deena says, "Andrew, how can we get the ht community and the interactive AI community connected?"

carolyng says, "I'd also recommend Diana Reed Slattery's Glide as a really cool interactive story/text/environment <>"

AndrewStern says, "Digital Arts and Culture conference was a place where these people all came together too"

Ivan says, "siggraph will be an interesting thing this year"

Ivan says, "is there a BOF for this?"

Deena says, "Yes, DAC will happen again this year. See "

nm says, "Nice, I just wish I could get Shockwave working for Glide..."

carolyng says, "Wasn't DAC the headiest experience ever?"

nm says, "Shuckwave = Shockwave"

AndrewStern says, "DAC was pretty cool"

Deena Making definite tracks for Norway

Ivan [to Scott]: nice to see you again

carolyng says, "Glide needs the latest Shockwave."

Deena says, "So the best thing to do is to get to these conferences and keep abreast of developments."

nm says, "William Gillespie and I are doing a reading/performance at DAC this year of our now-secret project."

AndrewStern says, "and as a way to meet and talk to people, yeah"

carolyng loves secrets

AndrewStern says, "I think if my collaborator and I can pull off our project, we'll come to the annual hypertext conf with it."

Deena says, "Maybe Elit can help keep announcements of these events and papers coming."

Scott says, "We're also going to be having some ELO events and get-togethers (coming soon)"

nm says, "DAC 99 was truly excellent, a source of many contacts and a writing collaborator for me"

Deena says, "Andrew, I think that would be wonderful"

Deena says, "Any other questions for Andrew?"

AndrewStern says, "nice chatting with you all"

Ivan says, "thanks"

Deena passes out last minute thinking caps so absorb all this

sleddog says, "thank you!"

Julianne waves thanks to Andrew and everyone

carolyng says, "I've got to get going too. Great chat. Thanks for letting me eavesdrop!"

Scott says, "Andrew, where are you at geographically?"

Deena says, "This has been great. Thanks so much!"

AndrewStern says, "sf bay area"

AndrewStern waves bye

Scott says, "cool. I'll drop you a line, maybe visit next month."

sleddog waves

AndrewStern says, "sure"

nm says, "Thanks Andrew, a great chat"

Scott says, "nice to see you online sleddog and Ivan . . . I'll see you at art night."

AndrewStern has disconnected.

Ivan takes off, to putter on stuff

Ivan [to Scott]: excellent

Ivan has disconnected.

Scott says, "I'll try and talk one of the other Unknown to come up, we can do a laptop reading"

sleddog says, "Well, this was really cool. I'm still blown away by the idea of these characters being used as actors..."

Deena says, "Well all, thanks for coming. This was a great chat."

-- End log: Saturday, April 8, 2000 4:31:01 pm CDT


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