Designers
ICT Leaders Project, Marina del Rey, CA;

ICT Leaders Project

Location: Marina del Rey, California
Click above to view the full-size image

How does one train future military leaders to negotiate complex situations in foreign lands, understand cultural differences, and protect troops and civilians in highly populated urban areas? The United States Army enlisted Hollywood to help solve these problems. Discussions among former entertainment industry executives, academics, and officials from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) led the Army to launch the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California, where entertainment creatives work with computer scientists to fulfill the Army’s directive: “Build us a holodeck.”

Today, with much of the U.S. military’s work, such as peacekeeping missions, happening away from the battlefield, soldiers need greater skills and training in diplomacy and decision-making. To accomplish this, ICT creates synthetic immersive experiences that are so compelling, the participants often react as if they were real. Through real-time training simulations, ICT is building a new generation of leadership development tools through what ICT’s Creative Director Jim Korris describes as “complex interactive narrative, using highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities and high production-value graphics. Our games look good—but they are unusually ‘smart.’ ” Up to sixty percent of the processor resources in typical ICT-developed applications are devoted to AI, as opposed to about twenty percent in typical commercial entertainment titles.

In February 2003, ICT released Full Spectrum Command and, soon after, the award-winning Full Spectrum Warrior, training games which teach users to think and make strategic decisions three-dimensionally. In the Leaders program, a collaboration between ICT and Paramount Pictures, users interact with avatars to choose between two leadership decisions, each of which leads to a different storyline. In a number of these training games, AI is programmed to “learn” from the user’s questions, and virtual characters can progressively adapt and answer related, but unexpected, questions.

Sergeant John Blackwell is a three-dimensional virtual character capable of spoken interaction with visitors using ICT’s natural language-processing technology. ICT’s Animation Lab developed techniques to drive the character’s voicesynchronized mouth movements, facial animation, and eyetracking systems. With his extensive vocabulary and AI language programming, Sergeant Blackwell can answer a wide range of visitors’ questions, structuring his answers based on recognized words in the questions. Engaging and funny, Blackwell even answers open-ended questions. For example, when asked, “What time is it?” he may answer, “What am I, a clock?” Or, if asked about the weather, he may reply, “You are asking me the wrong question. What you should be asking me is…” In another ICT program, viewers must negotiate with a resolute doctor in Iraq to move his hospital to a safer area. The AI can be programmed to alter the doctor’s mood, tone of voice, level of aggression, and negotiation skills. As with so many design innovations that originate from military uses, ICT’s designs presage training that will be useful in all aspects of life in the future.