The company said the AIs will start by being placed in virtual pets that grow more intelligent as they interact with their human owners, but would eventually be able to support more sophisticated creatures such as talking parrots and babies. Novamente said it had developed a "cognition engine" that would act as the thinking part of the AI, while "the virtual world provides the body," according to company founder Dr. Ben Goertzel.
Goertzel said both research and business reasons led Novamente to using virtual worlds for its AI development, and that there would likely be a strong market for "smart" virtual pets in them. "There are a lot of virtual pets out there and none of them have much intelligence," he said. "We have a pretty fully functioning animal brain right now and we are hooking it up to the different virtual worlds. There's not much doubt we can make really cool artificial animals."
He said virtual worlds would give the AIs a "relatively unsophisticated environment" in which to develop. "Robots have a lot of disadvantages, we have not solved all the problems of getting them to move around and see the world. It's a lot more practical to control virtual robots in simulated worlds than real robots," he said.
Using the AIs in gaming environments will be easier for the company in terms of acceptance, Goertzel said, because of the already commonplace use of limited AI in many videogames. While the script-based AI seen in most games won't compare to Novamente's effort, "The gaming industry has been one of the few places where AI has not been a dirty word," he said.
Novamente is scheduled to announce its first products at the San Jose Virtual Worlds conference in early October.