In 1978, roboticist Dr. Masahiro Mori plotted emotional response against similarity to human appearance and movement in a study designed to provide insight into psychological reaction to robot design. The results were startling. The closer that robots, or indeed synthetic humans, come to resembling ourselves, the more positive our emotional response towards them - up to a point. But as the similarity of a robot to real human approaches 95 per cent, we suddenly start to describe its appearance as creepy - like a corpse brought to life. This sudden swing from positive to negative, referred to as the 'Uncanny Valley,' is even greater as the motion of a synthetic character approaches, but it doesn't quite reach, a 100 per cent resemblance to human motion. Most video games today don't engage players' empathy to their full potential because their level of realism fall into this Uncanny Valley. George Borshukov, now at Electronic Arts, argues that through reconstructing virtual humans from real-life source data, we can climb out of the Uncanny Valley and set a new level of photorealism. (see boxout: 'Digital cloning.')
His latest work, with Electronic Arts' Worldwide Studios, extends the technology developed for the Matrix sequels through its application to game design. In its concept demo for Fight Night Round 3, a next-gen game for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, real-life video and performance data is used to reconstruct two photoreal boxers as they fight head to head in the ring. What's truly outstanding is that these fighters are rendered in real-time. Electronic Arts is guarded about revealing its product roadmaps, but when pressed, Borshukov admits that, within the next two years, we could see this kind of technology applied to primary characters in next-gen games.
Human 2.0: New Technologies