Cogito looked at the reflection in the mirror and quickly identified it as his own.
But he also noticed a giant red dot located prominently on his forehead. The dot seemed to unsettle him enough that he seemed determined to wipe it from his visage.
“I do not want this blotch,” he said with an intonation that sounded distinctly artificial. “I intend to remove this blotch.”
Then with one fluid motion, the avatar representing Cogito reached a hand toward the dot and wiped it away. The simple act was unsolicited and happened simply because the synthetic character recognized something he didn’t like on his computer-generated appearance in a mirror reflecting it from the screen of a MacBook.
These are baby steps Cogito is taking toward self-consciousness, explained Naveen Sundar Govindarajulu, a doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Cogito can recognize itself, understands when something is out of place and has the ability to learn other personalities.
The blend of complex mathematical equations and cognitive science that allows Cogito to exist was forged from the interdisciplinary approach RPI will be taking with its newly launched Center for Cognition, Communication and Culture. This cutting edge approach helps to bridge the gap between creative thought and scientific pragmatism.
“This new center will bring together researchers from such seemingly diverse arenas as the arts, computer science, cognitive science and game design to forge new tools at the intersections of the cognitive, cyber and physical worlds,” RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson said Tuesday during the formal launch of the research facility at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center.
The center’s initial core areas of research will include cross-modal displays, mixed reality and synthetic characters. To support this research, the center also known as CCC or C-cubed will house a new emergent reality lab, which will provide researchers with a room-sized virtual reality system combining stereoscopic projection and 3-D computer graphics.
The lab is now under construction in the Rensselaer Technology Park. Once completed, it will provide a virtual environment that will help researchers to better harness the vast computational power of computers.
“Through CCC, we hope to tackle some of the emerging challenges and opportunities that life in our growing parallel universe has brought out,” said Jonas Braasch, director of the new center.
Other projects already under way at the center include Ben Chang’s emergent reality program dubbed “the Lost Manuscript.” This program combines virtual reality, narrative and game design to create a learning scheme that helps teach Mandarin Chinese.
Unlike classroom learning, Chang’s system immerses students in a synthetic virtual world in a narrative that compels them to learn. Students taking the first segment of the Lost Manuscript first find themselves abandoned by their guide in a virtual Beijing Airport, where they must navigate through various Chinese characters to wend their way through the city and ultimately find their guide.
“It’s woven into a game and a story that lasts the semester and keeps the students engaged and immersed in the experience the whole time,” he said.
Other initiatives include one that allows two musical performers to play in separate geographic locations using a low-latency audio and video conferencing system. The device helps reduce the time delay between the artists’ performances to about 35 milliseconds.
“It’s about the same as playing across the stage from someone,” said Mary Simoni, dean of RPI’s School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.