ISPR Presence News

Monthly Archives: February 2018

Amazon’s Alexa Prize challenges experts to create bot capable of small talk

[Amazon’s Alexa Prize challenges AI experts to create a more natural (presence-evoking) social bot; the original, unabridged version of this long story from Wired describes the background, the competition process and results, and notes that Amazon has another Alexa Prize contest in 2018. –Matthew]


Amazon is in a pitched battle with its rivals to bring truly conversational AI into our homes. So the company is staging a contest—a mad dash toward an outlandish goal: Cook up a bot capable of small talk.

James Vlahos
February 27, 2018

The first interactor—a muscular man in his fifties with a shaved head and a black V-neck sweater—walks into a conference room and sits in a low-slung blue armchair before a phalanx of video cameras and studio lights. He’s brightly lit. The rest of the room is totally dark. He gazes at a black, hockey-­puck-shaped object—an Amazon Echo—on a small table in front of him. “Alexa,” he says, “let’s chat.”

“Good morning, my friend,” a female voice replies with synthetic agreeability, a purplish ring of light pulsing atop the Echo. “Or is it afternoon? I’m not quite sure.”

“It’s morning,” the man replies.

“Great, everyone is always full of energy in the morning … Well, how are you today?”

“I’m great, how are you?”

“Well, I’m always busy, as people keep chatting with me … But listen, this is just hilarious, it’s a recent post on Reddit: ‘Toothpaste is just mouth soap.’ ”

Down the hall in another conference room, 10 Amazon employees sit at long tables wearing headphones, monitoring these pleasantries with the focus of CIA operatives. In yet another room, three men sit in booths cordoned off by black curtains. They, too, wear headphones and have cameras trained on them. Finally, in a control center, members of a video crew monitor all the feeds on a large, tiled screen. Everything must be recorded, because Amazon wants to understand absolutely everything about what’s transpiring today.

This extravagantly staged operation, which took place last November, is the final judging session in a months-long competition. Amazon has challenged 15 teams of some of the world’s best computer science graduate students to build “a socialbot that can converse coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes.” If any team succeeds, its members will snare academic glory and the promise of brilliant future careers. (Consider that some of the most impressive alums of the Darpa Grand Challenges, an early set of autonomous vehicle competitions, went on to run the self-driving car divisions of Google, Ford, Uber, and General Motors.) They will also walk away with a $1 million purse—which Amazon has called the Alexa Prize. Read more on Amazon’s Alexa Prize challenges experts to create bot capable of small talk…

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Two important updates about the upcoming PRESENCE 2018 conference in Prague:

  1. DEADLINE: The submission deadline is Thursday March 1, but we know how things can go with deadlines, so if you need a few extra days there’s a bit of flexibility – just email me directly on or before the deadline to let us know when to expect your submission.


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Call: Social Simulation 2018, 14th Annual Conference of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA)

Call for Papers

Social Simulation 2018 (SSC 2018)
14th Annual Conference of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA)
August 20-24, 2018
Stockholm, Sweden

Submission deadline: 30 March, 2018

Social Simulation 2018 is the 14th Annual Conference of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA). The conference is one of ESSA’s key activities to promote social simulation and computational social science.

Looking in the mirror is the theme of this conference. As the relatively young field/society enters puberty some critical self-reflection is sought by looking in the mirror ourselves, with relevant others. With high potential of having identity crisis as well as moments of inspiration and insight, this conference aims to support during growing pains of a society in transformation towards proper scientific adulthood.

Papers categories:

SSC 2018 seeks submissions for the following papers categories:

  • Full Paper (max. 12 pages)
  • Extended Abstract (3-4 pages)
  • Abstract (300 – 500 words)

SSC 2018 seeks high-quality submissions addressing original research on social simulation / computational social science. All work must be original, i.e. must not have appeared in conference proceedings, books, or journals and may not be under review for other archival conferences, books, or journals. A list of topics relevant for SSC2018 can be found below the signatures, at the end of this call.

All accepted submissions will be published in conference proceedings (the Organizing Committee is in contact with Springer), unless the author(s) choose(s) otherwise. A number of full papers will be invited to submit revised versions to various journals with which the Organizing Committee is in contact (e.g.  JASSS, Simulation & Games, Environmental Modelling and Software Journal, Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory, Ecology and society).

For the Full Papers and Extended Abstracts to be part of the conference proceedings, at least one of the author of each accepted submissions is required to attend the conference to present the work. The corresponding author will be notified by email about acceptance or rejection by 14 May, 2018. Authors are able to incorporate the feedback from the reviews and make their submission camera-ready before June 11, 2018. Posters will be displayed during the entire conference period and will be presented during a dedicated session.

Submissions can be, if desired, designated for the following tracks:

  1. ESSA@work track
  2. Blue Sky Ideas track
  3. Special tracks

Submission procedure: Read more on Call: Social Simulation 2018, 14th Annual Conference of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA)…

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Facebook’s body-swapping AI further blurs line between real and fake

[As this story from The Next Web notes, Facebook’s new DensePose technology represents a new capability for altering the reality presented in video material. As always, the deception could logically have both positive and negative implications. See the original story for a second image and a 3:49 minute demo video. –Matthew]

Facebook’s body-swapping AI has Hollywood written all over it

By Tristan Greene
February 7, 2018

If you thought DeepFakes, the AI that swaps celebrity faces into any video (like porn), was scary wait until you see what Facebook’s DensePose can do.

Facebook’s AI research (FAIR) division last week revealed the details of a neural network that maps 2D images to humans in videos. Basically the team taught AI how to add “skins” to people in videos – in real-time.

If you’ve ever wanted to live in a world where, at the push of a button, you could turn all the people in any video into a Wookie (for example) this is fabulous news for you.

While there have been other 2D image-mapping neural networks, this one is the first to put it all together in real-time and effectively “connect the dots” without a depth sensor. It was created by FAIR researchers Natalia Neverova, and Iasonas Kokkinos with INRIA researcher Rıza Alp Güler.

It uses a convolutional neural network that was built by first creating a human-annotated data set and then training a “teacher” AI. In total, 50,000 images of human body parts were scrutinized by humans who then annotated more than 5 million data points which provided the training data for the network.

Once the system understood how humans see other humans, it was ready to train its “learner” how to see people the same way.

The end result is an AI that uses a 2D RGB image as input and applies it to any number of humans in a video. Instead of putting a celebrity’s face on someone else’s body, you could change the way people look in a video as if editing a Minecraft skin. Read more on Facebook’s body-swapping AI further blurs line between real and fake…

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Call: International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2019)

Call for Papers

International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2019)
Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, California USA, February 7-10, 2019

Abstract Submission Deadline (500 words): 10 September 2018


You are cordially invited to participate in the 2019 International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration: Integrating People and Intelligent Systems (IHSI 2019) which will be held at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, California USA, February 7-10, 2019.

IHSI 2019  Conference aims to provide a global forum for presenting and discussing novel approaches, design tools, methodologies, techniques, and solutions for integrating people, intelligent technologies and automation, and artificial cognitive systems in all areas of human endeavor in industry, economy, government, and education, including but not limited to energy, transportation, urbanization and infrastructure development, digital manufacturing, social development, human health, sustainability, new generation of service systems, as well as safety, risk assurance, autonomy, and cybersecurity in both civilian and military contexts.

IHSI 2019 Conference will focus on advancing the theory and applications of artificial cognitive systems and human-artificial systems collaboration by adopting a hybrid-centered design approach that utilizes and expands on the current knowledge of human-centered design and intelligent systems supported by cognitive software and engineering, smart data analytics, large scale socioeconomic simulations, and next generation computer visualization.  This interdisciplinary conference will also expand the boundaries of the current state-of-the-art by investigating the pervasive complexity that underlies the most profound problems facing contemporary society today.

All submitted papers will be peer-reviewed by three independent referees from the International Editorial Board. Papers in the theoretical category should deal with theories, models, concepts, and structures; papers in the generic category should present research results of broad applicability; and papers in the applied category should show how research is translated into technological innovations for intelligent human-artificial systems collaboration.

Selected areas and topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • IHSI 1: Humans and Artificial Cognitive Systems
  • IHSI 2: Intelligence Technology and Analytics
  • IHSI 3: Computational Modeling and Simulation
  • IHSI 4: Humans and Artificial Systems Complexity
  • IHSI 5: Smart Materials and Inclusive Human Systems
  • IHSI 6: Human-Autonomy Teaming

Read more on Call: International Conference on Intelligent Human Systems Integration (IHSI 2019)…

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Personal robots are coming into your home. Will they share your family values?

[This in depth discussion of the need for robots to act based on a system of ethical guidelines, how those guidelines should be constructed, whether robots can not only act but ‘be’ ethical, and how humans should ethically behave toward robots, is from the Desert News. See the original story for 21 more pictures and a 7-item survey about robot ethics. –Matthew]

Personal robots are coming into your home. Will they share your family values?

By Jennifer Graham
February 14, 2018

HARTFORD, Conn. — When a Czech playwright coined the word “robot” in 1921, he described mechanical creatures that have “no passion, no history, no soul.”

The absence of soul might be good if your goal is to design a killing machine or simply a robot that will mop floors 24-7 without complaint.

But as manufacturers begin to introduce “companion robots” that play with children and look after the elderly, some scientists and ethicists are thinking that if robots can’t have a soul, they should at least have some foundational ethics to govern their behavior.

The need for so-called “moral machines” encompasses not only the coming household robots that will patrol our homes, remember our birthdays and turn on the lights, but also the disembodied voices of Siri and Alexa, who fetch information for us on demand and in turn, share information about us with their manufacturers. It also expands to single-purpose robotic devices such as Roomba, which maps our homes while it vacuums our floors; the Laundroid, which folds and sorts laundry; and the Landroid, which cuts grass.

Susan and Michael Anderson, retired college professors in Connecticut, are at the forefront of this widening conversation about ancient values and modern machines.

She, a philosopher, and he, a computer scientist, merged their talents to create what they call the world’s first ethical robot. They programmed NAO, a blue-and-white plastic robot just shy of 2 feet tall, to operate within ethical constraints, and they believe other robots can be created to not only reflect human values, but also to deduce them through a process called machine learning.

In doing so, the couple finds themselves at odds with some academics who reject their belief that there are universal standards of morality. They also collide with those who believe such standards can be derived from popular consensus, such as the Moral Machine project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Researchers there devised an online test in which people can grapple with ethical quandaries a self-driving car might face when a fatal accident is unavoidable. But ethical challenges in robotics go beyond self-driving cars.

Should a companion robot report a child’s confidences to parents, or more troublingly, to the manufacturer of the device? How should a self-driving wheelchair respond if its occupant tries to commit suicide by plunging down stairs? What should a robot do if a child tells him to pour a hot drink on a younger sibling? And what should manufacturers of devices already ubiquitous in homes, such as Amazon’s Echo and iRobot’s Roomba, be allowed to do with the data they’re collecting? Read more on Personal robots are coming into your home. Will they share your family values?…

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Call: 11th International Conference on Game and Entertainment Technologies 2018


GET 2018 – 11th International Conference on Game and Entertainment Technologies 2018
Madrid, Spain, 18- 20 July 2018 (

Part of the Multi Conference on Computer Science and Information Systems (MCCSIS 2018)
Madrid, Spain, 17 – 20 July 2018 (

Organized by: International Association for Development of the Information Society

Deadline for submissions: 19 March 2018


The GET 2018 conference aims to bring together research and practice from creative, social and business practitioners and researchers in this challenging field. The focus of this conference is on design, development and evaluation of games, entertainment technologies and the nature of play.

Topics for this conference include, but are not limited to:

  • Development methodologies
  • Design issues
  • Controversial issues – we welcome debate and dissension, for example; games as art, entertainment as purely for monetary returns etc
  • Special Effects
  • Animation
  • Mobile and ubiquitous games and entertainment
  • Serious Games –applications, critiques
  • Philosophical issues
  • Prototypes
  • Social and cultural uses of/for Play
  • Tools and technologies
  • Skills, strategy, rules and chance
  • Genre
  • Immersiveness and engagement
  • Research methodologies in creative practice
  • Usability and playability
  • User/player centered design
  • Psychological, social, and cultural differences in perception and participation
  • Communities, networks, social interaction and social capital
  • Cross-cultural and intercultural approaches
  • Assessment of exploratory learning approaches
  • Emerging practices

PAPER SUBMISSION Read more on Call: 11th International Conference on Game and Entertainment Technologies 2018…

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Virtual ‘hamster cages’: How tech and presence may erase the limits of inequality

[I believe presence is a powerful tool and that presence scholars and creators have a particular responsibility to consider, warn against, and work to prevent its use for unethical ends. Reminiscent of a Black Mirror story, this cautionary opinion column explores the potential of presence-evoking technology to subvert the mechanisms that prevent the most extreme forms of societal inequality. It was published in Bloomberg View. –Matthew]

[Image: Enjoy. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg]

Are You Poor? Here’s Your Virtual Hamster Cage

Technology could erase the limits of inequality.

By Cathy O’Neil
February 21, 2018

What are the limits of inequality? In a world with virtual reality, history might be an unreliable guide.

Time was you could imagine a peasant revolt: If the poorest were starving, they wouldn’t wait around patiently for political change. Riots would disrupt the status quo. If things were really bad, the army might join in. Self-preservation would then compel elites to respond by redistributing wealth, rather than continuing to hoard resources. For a while, society would be more equal.

In the developed world, however, the poor aren’t necessarily poor enough for that scenario to play out. Instead, the folks at the bottom of the wealth spectrum live in a grey area of hopelessness, opioid addiction and other slow-motion suicide on the one hand, and Medicaid work requirements, drug tests, and other attempts to shame them as undeserving on the other.

I can picture three ways society might go from here. The first is the worst-case sadistic scenario: The poor become so dehumanized that their suffering moves nobody, opening the way to institutionalized neglect. The best-case scenario is the unlikely but utopian Star Trek singularity. Finally, the middle scenario involves meeting basic needs and stimulating pleasure centers but not much more. Read more on Virtual ‘hamster cages’: How tech and presence may erase the limits of inequality…

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Call: 18th ACM International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA 2018)


18th ACM International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA 2018)
November 5-8, 2018, Sydney, Australia

Sponsored By
Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and SIGAI

Full Papers Due: May 15, 2018
Workshop Proposals Due: April 20, 2018
Demos, Industry Track Submissions and Extended Abstracts Due: May 15, 2018
GALA Video Submissions: October 29, 2018

IVA 2018 is the 18th meeting of an interdisciplinary annual conference and the main leading scientific forum for presenting research on modeling, developing and evaluating Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVAs) with a focus on communicative abilities and social behavior. IVAs are interactive digital characters that exhibit human-like qualities and can communicate with humans and each other using natural human modalities like facial expressions, speech and gesture. They are capable of real-time perception, cognition, emotion and action that allow them to participate in dynamic social environments.  In addition to presentations on theoretical issues, the conference encourages the showcasing of working applications.

Special Topic

IVA 2018’s special topic is ‘Virtual Agents in Games and Simulations’, which are agents that act as non-player characters (NPCs) in video games and agents that participate in game-like simulations and serious games. With this topic in mind we are seeking closer engagement with the gaming industry and expect submissions sharing industry wisdom in relation to building non-player characters in video games. We are also interested in papers discussing practical applications of virtual agents and technical details in relation to creating those for various types of simulations that feature virtual environments and avatars. Examples of such simulations are military training environments, historical simulations, educational simulations, medical simulations, etc. Read more on Call: 18th ACM International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents (IVA 2018)…

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Japan’s First Airlines takes passengers on simulated flight to virtual destination

[First Airlines isn’t an airline at all but a clever use of presence-evoking technologies to simulate a flight and visit to vacation destinations. This story from tnooz includes a 4:33 minute video (in Japanese); Reuters has more details and another video (in English), and the Independent’s coverage highlights the founders’ insights about VR. –Matthew]

For ‘First Airlines’ passengers, the journey is the VR destination

Marisa Garcia
February 16, 2018

This one’s a trip. Japanese airline-themed restaurant First Airlines, offers visitors a First class flying experience that includes a virtual reality immersive tour of Hawaii, New York, Paris or Rome.

To make the airline-experience complete, guests arrive to a “check-in desk” before boarding and get a paper boarding pass to commemorate the journey. “Passengers” sit in plush genuine aircraft seats in a mocked-up aircraft cabin that includes environmental elements such as engine sounds and views of the tarmac on take-off playing on large video screens and ambient light shows during the flight portion of the evening with images of starry skies projected onto the ceilings, walls and aircraft windows. “Flight attendants” even perform a safety briefing before take-off, complete with demonstration of how to buckle seat belts and don life jackets.

The “in-flight meals” are themed around the country of destination for the evening’s flight and served from airline trolleys.

First class tickets sell for under 6000 Yen (under $60) for a 110 minute journey, and there are also Business class tickets available for under 5000 Yen. The only difference between the two is where passengers sit in the mock-cabin, relative to the large video screens. Both classes enjoy the same meal service and the destination VR experience.

A sampling of the VR tours that guests experience is posted on First Airlines website and a collection of images from previous “flights” can be seen on its Instagram account. Read more on Japan’s First Airlines takes passengers on simulated flight to virtual destination…

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