My fourth TEDxPeachtree blogpost

2013 Speaker Spotlight: Mark Riedl

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Mark Riedl, a 2011 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Young Faculty Awards recipient, is an inspiring computer science researcher who looks for ways of applying basic research to real world problems and problems of the future.

As an Assistant Professor in the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing and director of the Entertainment Intelligence Lab, Dr. Riedl’s research focuses on the intersection of artificial intelligence, virtual worlds, and storytelling. His work on computational narrative intelligence catalyzes a number of important capabilities and applications that benefit humanity.

In May, DARPA published a news release about Dr. Riedl’s research on how computers can automatically construct interactive, cultural training models from the combined experiences of army soldiers based on a storytelling system he has developed.

“A lot of the conflict we had was just misunderstanding of other people’s culture because of not being familiar with it,” he said. “If we can get people who have gone down range to Iraq and Afghanistan and are immersed in the cultures to tell stories about what actually happened to them in the real world, we can take their stories and bring them back into the computer. We can zip all these stories together, create a common understanding of all the things that could happen, and twist around and spit out new stories that can be similar to the ones that have happened or can be very different.”

Dr. Riedl’s training-generation system is called “Scheherazade.” In the story of One Thousand and One Nights, also known as Arabian Nights, the character Scheherazade tells king Shahryar a story every night to spare her life, and with her great stories continuing for 1001 nights, Shahryar ended up making Scheherazade his queen. “How hard would that be to tell a really convincing story every single day?” he said. “I saw that as the goal for our system, that you can tell hundreds of thousands of different novel stories without massive computational overhead.”

The driving force behind Dr. Riedl’s work has been to answer the question, “How can we make computers smarter so they can play a facilitating role in creating and executing virtual learning experiences?” The smarter the computer is and the more it understands how things work, the more it can play a role in facilitating entertainment and educational experiences that humans can have.

Dr. Riedl is approaching human-centered Artificial Intelligence (AI) from two directions. While the DARPA project aims to make computers creative, Dr. Riedl is also leading a National Science Foundation (NSF) project where he and his team have set out to find ways that computers can help humans to better express their own creativity. “People are already creative, but sometimes they have a hard time expressing creativity.” Dr. Riedl and his team are seeking to instill intelligence in the computer to enable amateurs to create complex digital animations.

“I am fascinated by the human mind, the potential of the human mind. Look at all the things humans can do. They are very creative and expressive.” Dr. Riedl’s passion for human-centered AI can be traced back to the second grade. After watching the movie Tron, he was amazed by the idea of having a computer world with intelligent game-playing characters. Shortly after, he decided he wanted to learn programming. By the seventh grade, he was using technology to express his own creativity by making sophisticated computer programs and competing at the state Science Fair.

Dr. Riedl continues to search for and develop new methods to apply technology as a catalyst to assist humans in expressing their creativity. He reminds us that the perfect symbiosis between humans and computers is achieved when computers facilitate the natural creativity within humanity. “This is human-centered AI, and we would like to make sure human is the central part of what we are doing.”


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