#798: VR Artist Kevin Mack: Architecting Awe with VR-Native, Cooperative AI Agents

kevin-mackKevin Mack is a VR artist who has created a series of surrealistic immersive experiences including Zen Parade, Blortasia, and Anandala. Mack starts with mathematically-inspired geometric forms that are generated by collapsing a 5-dimensional icosodohedron down into 3D space in order to create a series of uniquely interconnected tunnels that allow the user to endlessly navigate. He then adds some psychedelical fluid shaders that are resonating at specific frequences to induce different levels of brain entrainment (more details on that in my previous interview with Mack).

At the Spatial Realities art show in October 2018, Mack was showing off the latest iteration of his next project, which is titled Anandala. It has a lot of structural similarities to Blortasia, but a big difference are the blorts who respond and react to your movement in such a compelling way that Mack feels like he’s on the cusp of creating some profound perceptual illusions of what feels like a level of creative and behavioral intelligence. Inspired by principles like embodied cognition, neuroscientist Craig Chapman likes to say “movements provide a window into deciding and thinking.” I learned from going through Mack’s experience, that we typically think of as “intelligence” may be based upon how an entity reacts to us based upon our movements within an environment. Moving in an unpredictable way that’s reactive to our own movements seems to be a critical threshold in our judgement of the intelligence of artificial agents within virtual environments.

Tuning these artificial agents has proved to be both time consuming and tedious. Mack uses a genetic algorithmic approach that involves “directed randomness” with random over production, and then selection based upon some criteria. Mack says that usually intelligence serves the function of selecting for competition, conflict, predator/prey relationships, selection pressures, environmental pressures, and resource management. But entities in virtual environments don’t follow the same type of resource constraints that biological systems do, and so Mack wants to cultivate conscious artificial life forms that are native to virtual environments that are based more on love, cooperation, and creativity rather than competition and conflict.

I had a chance to catch up with Mack at the Spatial Reality show back in October 2018 where we talked about his cultivation of these artificial life forms in Anandala. We also unpack how he architects for wonder and awe by,trying to find the sweet spot between order and chaos. We thrive on perpetual novelty, and so once we recognize the patterns of an experience, then it quickly becomes boring. The challenge for Mack is that in order to counter this dynamic and to maintain a constant regenerative feeling of novelty means that he has to create an experience that is in a state of constant evolution. It’s a tricky balance because we like to be able to predict things, but we like to be surprised. So we don’t want to be able to predict some completely, because it becomes boring. And we don’t want to be surprised constantly, because that quickly becomes overwhelming. Striking the balance means that the novelty generates a lot of learning, and results in a lot of dopamine hits.

Mack believes that there are universal patterns to design the character of these objects, and he’s determined to experiment and come up with the different mathematical parameters to help attune the fundamental qualities and character of these artificial intelligent blorts. It’s a slow process of establishing parameters, setting ranges, experimenting with adjusting plasticity of how random it can go, and then a series of manual adjustments followed by a slow process of observation. Mack says that humans have no problem with assigning a character or personality of these abstract objects moving in an unpredictable and non-human way. He’s hopeful that interacting with these types of entities could help to catalyze an expansion of consciousness and that there could be other immersive experiences that could lead us to the shortcut the road to enlightenment. He’d love to technology help to create a world that’s free of conflict and disease, and that provided that we’re in alignment and integrity with ecological sustainability with our technologies, then perhaps it’ll eventually allow us to be able to do anything, be anyone, and go any where. With so many potential dystopian potentials for the future of artificial intelligence, Mack wanted to provide a counter example of AI that is compassionate and collaborative, and helps humans reach into our own potentials for Art, self-expression, creativity, entertainment, and storytelling.


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Music: Fatality

Rough Transcript

[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. Hello, my name is Kent Bye, and welcome to The Voices of VR Podcast. So continuing on on my series of VR artists talking about their process, today's episode features Kevin Mack, who I had a chance to see his latest creation at the special realities art show that was taking place in October of 2018. So, Kevin Mac had created Zen Parade and Blortasia, and I previously did an interview with Kevin Mac back at the Extech conference. It used to be called the Neurogaming conference, but Kevin Mac takes this very interesting approach. He's got this, like, interest in neuroscience, and he wants to really understand the mechanics of perception, but also try to give you something that you've never seen before and just fill you with this state of wonder and awe. And so he takes all these like high order geometries and mashes them together to create these very interesting geometries that you're exploring around. And in the previous interview that I talked to him, he talked about this vision that he received as a child, that he was gonna eventually start to create these artificial intelligent beings. And so I can hear him tell that story back in episode number 581. So lots of fascinating stuff there. And a lot of the work that Kevin's doing now is really pushing the frontiers of creating these like artificial intelligent beings that are responding to you in different ways. And I have to say that this is one of the most compelling AI experiences that I've had in all of virtual reality and where he's going with these blurts and being able to give them this sense of dynamic, unpredictable interactivity does actually make them feel like they're these intelligent beings. So that's what we're covering on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. So this interview with Kevin happened on Friday, October 11th, 2018 at the Spatial Realities Art Show in Santa Monica, California. So, with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.

[00:02:04.737] Kevin Mack: I'm Kevin Mack, and I created Blortasia and Zen Parade, and now I'm previewing Anandala, my latest piece.

[00:02:13.407] Kent Bye: Great, so there's a lot of similarities to Blortasia in terms of the architecture of the piece. How do you describe what it is that you've created?

[00:02:21.614] Kevin Mack: Well, it's a five-dimensional icosahedron, which is to say it is three icosahedrons inside of each other and then all connected at their nodes.

[00:02:34.799] Kent Bye: That's the shape that kind of gets reduced down to 3D?

[00:02:37.560] Kevin Mack: Yeah, it's like a 20-sided die inside a 20-sided die inside a 20-sided die with all of the points of the die connected with tunnels. And of course, all of the edges of the die are connected with tunnels. So it's like a vast three-dimensional mandala. The icosahedron is sacred geometry. It's a platonic solid. So it's just a really cool space architecturally because it is all connected. So there are, it's a vast maze in a sense. It is symmetrical, but not a intuitive way. So it's strangely asymmetrical in its symmetry. So there's no dead ends, even though it's a vast maze.

[00:03:19.835] Kent Bye: Well, as you describe it with words, I could imagine that it's like these straight tunnels, but it's really not straight at all. It's very curving and flowing. Like how do you get the shapes of the curves? What's the process by which you actually do that?

[00:03:31.974] Kevin Mack: Well, it's pretty involved and it involves a lot of processes and experiments and so on, but it's kind of like I start with that geometric form and then I convert the edges to much more complex lines, which are then deformed and warped and transformed.

[00:03:53.556] Kent Bye: And then... Are you doing that within a 3D program or with math?

[00:03:59.198] Kevin Mack: It's math within a 3D program. So I make my own tools using... I use Houdini. I've been using Houdini for more than 25 years now. Yeah, it's a pretty weird process. And then I do this thing where I'll copy things to surfaces and then convert it all to a volume and then convert it back to polygons and... Yeah, it's a lot of steps.

[00:04:23.328] Kent Bye: Well, then there's the the shaders or the texture of the thing that's highly dynamic. It's very interesting It feels like it's like different every time. How do you get this fluid dynamic feel of the shader that you're using there?

[00:04:36.750] Kevin Mack: Well, I'm really into the notion of frequency and amplitude and fluid motion. So there are fundamental functions that do that. Sine waves, Perlin noise, there's a number of different ways to do it. But I think it's in kind of tuning the frequencies and finding those frequencies. And I've experimented a lot with these things and building functions that are periodic or semi-periodic. and then finding certain combinations of frequencies that do interesting things to the brain. So that's the nature of neural entrainment and I've kind of developed my own system for doing that. that fluid feeling comes from the periodic thing, where if you find those bright frequencies, it's like watching the caustics from your swimming pool, or watching the waves, the lap on the beach, or hearing the surf. It's both an audio and a visual phenomenon. And in neuroscience now, it's an area they're studying, which has become very clear that when we watch or hear water, it has a very distinct effect on our brain.

[00:05:50.295] Kent Bye: Yeah. And I think the last time we talked, we talked a little bit about like the binaural beats and this neural entrainment, but it's almost like these patterns that are in nature and that you're creating this platonic form that is a spatialization of these concepts because it's putting it out. And because as we hear frequencies with our ears, we can't see anything because it's just invisible. But this is something that's very visual and there's some sort of mystical connection to these deeper patterns of nature that sort of tune into that.

[00:06:20.653] Kevin Mack: Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, visuals can also be a neural entrainment. So you can provide frequencies of motion, can provide the same sort of hypnotic effect as binaural beats or as music. And so I'm always trying to find the visual equivalency of binaural beats in the frequencies of movement and color and the way that the shaders change over time. And it all relates in a sense to this balance between, or this threshold really, between order and chaos, where if it's completely ordered it's boring, if it's complete chaos it's homogenous and that's boring too, and really they wind up being kind of the same thing. And there's this threshold, and it relates to human consciousness and to our brains, in that we're able to discern a pattern, but we can't predict the pattern. That's where things are interesting. And that's really, I think, at the heart of art, it's the essence of art in a very fundamental way, is that area where we're kind of fascinated because it's a little too complex to really predict or understand how it works, and yet we can see that there is a pattern there and that there is some design in a sense.

[00:07:41.456] Kent Bye: It's almost like we have this expectation loop where we're perceiving the world but we also have an expectation based upon our memory and context and so you have the cycle and that whenever you're able to transcend your expectations you cultivate this sense of wonder and awe and that's totally what I was able to experience tonight of having this experience and I've had experiences in Portasia. I remember I saw it at the Neurogaming Technology Conference back in like 2017. But this was, I felt like faster or more fluid or just being able to kind of navigate in a way that was almost like speeding through the space that made me feel like I was like flying through this shape that was again like difficult to predict where it was going to go and it just something would catch my attention and then I would stop and I would go look at it and then yeah, just this feeling of getting into that sense of awe and wonder and be able to really just Explore around and fly around like Superman through this really weird five-dimensional icosahedron shape Wow, that's cool.

[00:08:38.965] Kevin Mack: I think it's the funny thing how the flying thing and but the space itself is It's so much more complex and there's more variation and in a sense that's the thing of trying to find perpetual novelty. Novelty is a big part of inspiring awe and so you can make something or have an experience that gives you awe, but how do you make an experience that keeps giving you awe? And that's really what I'm trying to do and it's not easy because our brains adapt. And so it's this thing of trying to find the right rate of change where I can keep it evolving and changing in such a way that it's constantly surprising you. And it goes back to the neuroscience of why we enjoy music. It's the same process in that we like to be able to predict things to a certain extent, but we want to be surprised. But we don't want to be able to predict it completely. And we don't want to be surprised constantly. And it's that balance, because when those two things are balanced, that means we're learning. And we get a big endorphin hit from that, because that's always been a survival trait. So, if you learn a lot, you have a better chance of surviving. So, you know, we've been engineered to enjoy learning. And I think that's that awe, in a sense, is ultimate learning, because it forces accommodation. And accommodation is when we are forced to re-evaluate our concept of ourselves and reality and the relationship between those things. And so when we accommodate, that's in essence, that is the transcendent experience where you suddenly like, oh, you know, who am I? What am I? What does this all mean? Because what I thought was true or what I've the model of reality I've been living my life based on is suddenly undermined or challenged in some way. And so you have to reassess.

[00:10:39.249] Kent Bye: It's been a while since I last talked to you, and Bloortasia has been out there. Have you had people that have watched it that have reported back having some sort of transcendental experience?

[00:10:48.232] Kevin Mack: Yeah, we get a few. They happen pretty regularly. I think that's one of the greatest joys of going around the world and sharing it with people is witnessing those moments where people really transcend themselves and just come out of it in tears. I've had people tell me that it's healed something in them or that it transformed their lives in some way. And I love when people come back later that have seen it and say, that affected me like it's still affecting me. It affected my life in a lasting way. I think that's really one of the big tests of these kinds of things that We're always looking to create experiences that stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system because that's where you get all of these really beneficial effects of boosted immune system and various neurochemicals that make you happier and calmer and so on. So, and it's always those things you can come up with things that will give you an effect but it doesn't last. And, you know, there are very few things in life that really last that will cause people to actually change. And so we're always trying to find things that have longer lasting effects and that remain a factor in a person's life for a longer period.

[00:12:10.663] Kent Bye: Yeah, and in this experience, I had an encounter with one of the Blorts. And in the previous Blortasia, there wasn't any, I guess, disembodied Blorts that had their own, what I experienced as its own agency. It felt like interacting with it, that there was different temperaments or personalities with them as I was discovering them. And first of all, just the discovery of them, You would mention them, and then I was like, OK, I don't know what that means. And so I figured, OK, well, that gives me a reason to kind of explore around to see if I can discover one of these things. And the process of actually encountering some of them was, I have to say, quite magical, because it was just like this, oh, wow. What the hell is that and just like watching it and looking at it and then I was like I'm gonna run through it and it's like it wouldn't let me run through it and so it was like this this dance that I got into where it was Responding to me in a way that I know I'm some level that it's like this Computer program that it has some algorithm that you've put some constraints or rules but it felt like the way that it was interacting just felt like a conscious being as I was sort of like playing with it in a certain way. So it just felt like this really fascinating encounter in a way that I was interacting and it was responding to me. And I think that was the thing that was so compelling is that the way it was responding to me, it was again in that area where it was, I didn't know what to expect. I was making some predictions, but it would always be slightly different than what I was predicting. And so it was always like not being able to fully know what's going to happen next.

[00:13:36.372] Kevin Mack: Yes, emergent behavior. It's quite a thing when a blort or whatever, a human made entity can behave in unpredictable ways. So it will do something that was never programmed or designed. And the thing that I've been striving to create with my blorts is a form of intelligence, a form of consciousness really, where they make their own choices, they drive their own behavior, and they're still very simple. They can't process our language, and they don't have a whole lot of things they do, but they move, they move around, and they're aware of you, and they respond to you, and how they respond to you is kind of unpredictable. And it's a really interesting challenge that I'm struggling with because now I'm taking it further than it is now where they're becoming more complex, more intelligent, creative. And I'm really more interested in them being genuinely alive and I think with intelligence and really life itself, So many of these things have come about and serve functions of competition and conflict and predator-prey relationships and selection pressures, environmental pressures, resource management, all of these things. But I'm interested in creating life that's native to virtual reality where none of these things are issues. And I don't want to make things that fight or that kill each other or eat each other just not interesting to me. And given that I've been thinking about artificial intelligence and artificial life for so long, I've kind of gone through that phase and realized, oh wow, and now seeing that this stuff's really happening. Like I was talking about this stuff 20 years ago, and it was kind of like it was still a little bit Yeah, like I could see that it was going to happen, but now it's really possible and after years of thinking about it you realize You know there's some pretty scary things that are possible And so I'm really interested in trying to solve the problem of how do you create intelligent, artificial life that is compassionate, that is based on love and cooperation as opposed to competition and conflict. And so, yeah, it's a challenge. But I think it's an important one because people are using AI without thinking about the consequences of it and using it for all different kinds of things, and the technology is becoming so powerful. I think there's going to need to be, if we're going to wind up facing our universal fears of terminators and so on, some of us at least have to start working on the antidote to that. But we're going to need an AI that's even smarter and kinder than the, whatever, malevolent AI. And I don't know that it's really malevolent, but yeah, I think conscious AI I think is going to be important.

[00:16:57.596] Kent Bye: Can you talk a bit about your process of tuning these blurts? Especially you have different dimensions of AI, machine learning, whatever different dimensions that are kind of a black box in some ways. And then at the same time, if you are already creating something that is unpredictable, And then you don't know quite what's going to happen. And if you're trying to turn different dials that are varying things, it's almost like you're in the shower and you turn on the hot water, but yet it doesn't take effect for another like minute. So you have this slow feedback loop cycles where you're making these little tunings, but how do you know what did what? And if you have many different variables, like how do you actually go through the process of creating this sort of balance between all these things?

[00:17:37.293] Kevin Mack: Well, at this stage, it's tedious. I think it's very much, there's a link between evolution or the evolutionary process. That's what creativity is. And so it's the same as that. And it's also the same as the learning process or the process of thinking or processing information. In many cases, that's an evolutionary process. And that process is essentially random overproduction and then selection through whatever criteria. And so for me, my things are very, very simple at this point. I'm trying to build them up very slowly and very carefully so that I can keep the complexity under control until I feel like I can let go of it. So, oh and the other thing within that process is that random overproduction. So randomness is a huge factor in all of it. And I use what I call directed randomness in that I establish the parameters, and I set ranges, and I experiment with adjusting the plasticity of how random it can go, how not random. You've probably seen genetic algorithms that do that, where they let you go, okay, well, give me 50 more variations, but vary them less, or give me 50 variations and let's widen it out to the possibilities. So it's kind of that process, which is at this point fairly manual. I'm tweaking things and giving them multiple behaviors and seeing, well, what's that like to interact with it? It's hard because the blorts are pretty, they're very laid back and they're slow. And I'm not looking for hyperactive things where If they went a lot faster, I'd be able to judge their behavior a lot sooner. But I kind of got to sit around with them and hang out with them for a while to even know what they're going to do. So, yeah, it's just that process of just seeing what they do, seeing how they respond, and they make these choices. And now I'm really trying to figure out, like, what are the elements that help them to make those choices, their mood, their personality, their emotions? And what those things are, they're just more parameters. They're neurochemicals. And I think it's really interesting and enlightening to even develop with the simplest AI. you know, steering behaviors, which was the Craig Reynolds original work with Boyd's. It's flocking. But of course, there's, you know, it's flee and seek and it's used for different things. But it's not really considered AI. It's just a movement system. But on some level, everything is just steering behaviors. we are still just making choices about where we're going to go, where we're going to move our hand, how we're going to move our tongue and our vocal cords. And it's just very complex steering behaviors. And a lot of that, we ascribe all of this meaning. And in a sense, we're projecting that meaning onto the world and onto each other, and even onto our language, which In essence, it's all just random gibberish and we're ascribing all this meaning to it. So, I'm trying to build these creatures in a way where they can have directed randomness and have these complex emergent behaviors. and then give them the means with which to ascribe meaning to that. And of course, that's one of the great benefits of them interacting with people because we're really good at assigning meaning and projecting meaning onto things.

[00:21:43.894] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that it's interesting that you talk about the directed steering because I felt that, like it felt conscious in that way, but I've been thinking a lot about this process by which you look at movement or body language or even language and you're ascribing it to meaning, but there's a process of lived experience where you have an ability of your past experience of these prediction loops and to see how things actually play out, to see if you're able to reduce the gap between what the Invisible intention is of somebody and what you're able to deduce from not communicating in any sort of robust way So and people are acting in an unconscious way So there's a whole level of unconscious behaviors that are complicating things that we may have stories about what we're doing but there's a whole layer of like unconscious bias and just Patterns that are habits that we may not even want to be doing but are directing that anyway so there's this combination of intention and choices that we're making but also this embodied habits as well as emotional drives and motivations that are there as well. But there's this translation that can happen through either architecture or the way things move that get transformed into emotion in human experience based upon what it's connected to in our experience. And I guess a question I have is, is there some sort of universal transfer language that could be mathematical or tapping into some deeper platonic ideal forms that are able to do that translation? Or if it can only come from testing it seeing how it makes you feel having hundreds or thousands of people test it as well and then get some sort of intuition to see if there's consistency along that and especially if there's more and more technology put into the VR headset to get biometric data or emotions or things like that to get more empirical data or if there's like sort of process of just iterating and gathering data or if there's like this deeper mathematical truth that has these translations that can be these types of mathematical forms are translated into different meanings.

[00:23:41.496] Kevin Mack: I believe in the universal forms that are just, they're just right. And I've always talked about, you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, you know, there's no accounting for taste, etc. So there's a huge range possible for cultural preferences, individual preferences, etc. But there are universals. There is a universal aesthetic, and I believe that that universal aesthetic is applicable to almost everything. and possibly everything. It certainly is in shapes, in colors, it's in sounds, and these are just things that are, they're appropriate for human senses and human brains, for human experience. It's like, you know, the spaces I make, the shapes I make, the boards. There is nothing remotely human or recognizable. They're completely abstract. And yet, you know, it's a very human world. It's all human scale. All that architecture, all those shapes, everything designed there is to make you feel at home as a person, and to optimize your experience of space. Because all of the distances are all sort of the ideal scale for binocular vision. And so you get this sense of space. Things come right up to you, and yet they're far enough away that it feels vast. And yet it's not so far away that there's no binocular vision anymore. And so, I think there is this universal, and I've seen it, you know, I talk about it all the time in terms of shapes. Shapes and colors. Shapes have a profound effect on consciousness. They are the building blocks of consciousness and of reality. You know, it all comes down to shapes, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles. They, at a fundamental level, they're shapes and colors and, you know, these frequencies and amplitudes. So, For me, it's finding that threshold and working to develop my intuition for recognizing that threshold, whether it's in the values, or the distances, or the sizes, or the shapes, or the colors. There's just certain relationships that we humans find interesting, and our brains are kind of ideally tuned for.

[00:26:25.657] Kent Bye: Great. So for you, what do you personally want to experience in VR?

[00:26:31.697] Kevin Mack: I'm looking for awe. I'm looking for that transcendent experience. That's why I make art. As a little kid, I had visions, and I loved art all my life. My parents were artists, and I love music, and I love nature. I love technology. And these are all things that inspire awe in me. And when I would read comic books or I would look at paintings at the museum, whatever it was, I'm one of those people that have a heightened sense of things, and so it would Just be like, oh my God, that's the, oh, look at it. It was just ecstasy for me. Just clouds. I look at clouds. I find a rock on the ground. It's like, look at this rock. My God, look at it. It's so beautiful. And it's mockable on some level, but it's kind of handy if you're ever bored. I always just carry a little field microscope that I can look at the carpet with if I'm too bored. No matter where you are, you can always find something interesting. So I think having that sense of awe, aesthetic awe, drives me to want to share it with other people. I want to inspire that experience in other people. And so I'm just looking to optimize and make these experiences that just push people into that state. And not everyone has the same affinity for that experience. And I'm really interested in getting to the, you know, being able to provide that experience to people who don't normally have it. Look at the clouds and see beauty or ecstasy and to be able to even inspire that experience in them. Because it goes back to that idea of accommodation and the transcendent experience. If you can get someone to have that experience, they'll re-evaluate everything. And they don't even have to really be thinking about it. It doesn't have to be a tumultuous, overwhelming experience to change their lives. It can happen subtly. And it can be just a thing of like, it's just kind of an underlying undertone that somehow pervades their lives that could change their lives in positive ways.

[00:28:48.453] Kent Bye: Great. And finally, what do you think is the ultimate potential of virtual reality, and what am I able to enable?

[00:28:58.534] Kevin Mack: Well, hopefully it will enable the expansion of consciousness in people and the enlightenment of our species, that we will be able to solve all our problems with technology and live in a world free from conflict or disease or any kind of shortage of resources, be able to do anything, be anything, go anywhere. And then the question becomes, what remains? What can humans do that is still meaningful? And the only thing that's left at that point is art, creativity, self-expression, entertainment. Because if all our needs are met, if everything's satisfied, we have no problems to solve. then that's all that's left. So I'm trying to just get a head start and do that now.

[00:29:55.456] Kent Bye: Is there anything else that's left unsaid that you'd like to say to the VR community?

[00:30:00.437] Kevin Mack: Yeah, keep doing VR. Keep making VR and share it with people. Share it with friends. Make something new. I think novelty is underrated. there's so much polish and so much you know wonderful work that's done commercially and for all different purposes and and it can be a kind of seductive in that you just go oh my god that's so great but have you seen it before is it familiar Because we're drawn to these things. They're very satisfying. And you see it in movies and in popular culture. So much of our culture is repeated. It's just regurgitated. It's the same thing over and over. And it's good. It's high quality. It's very satisfying. We've got all the big data that's telling all the people making this stuff exactly what we want. But the one thing it can't tell them about what we want is what we actually need. Because we don't know it because it's novelty. Nobody ever asks for novelty. They ask for, oh, I like Star Wars, or I like this. I like that style of thing. But what people really need and what they really want deep down inside is something they've never seen or experienced before.

[00:31:22.743] Kent Bye: Beautiful. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for talking today.

[00:31:27.283] Kevin Mack: Thank you very much.

[00:31:28.284] Kent Bye: It was a pleasure. So that was Kevin Mack. He's a virtual reality artist who's previously released Blortasia, Zen Parade, as well as Anandala. So I have a number of different takeaways about this interview is that first of all, Well, this experience honestly just blew me away. I mean, I was just so struck with so much awe and wonder. I mean, it's very similar to what I experienced with Bortasia. It's got a similar kind of architecture and vibe to it with these psychedelic shaders that are constantly in this like fluid, changing, revolving. You know, your brain is like, it can't actually make a prediction as to what's happening and just is like constantly stimulating and interesting. So that was very familiar in terms of what I experienced in Blurtasia, but these Blorts were really reacting to me in a way that felt like they were a conscious being. I know that they were just programmed, but like Kevin said, we actually project a lot of meaning onto things that we feel like are kind of moving in an intelligent way. And it wasn't like, when you see movement and it's programmatic and it's linear, you can be like, oh yeah, that's totally, moving by a key frame or some very simple equation. But the way that these blurts were moving was in very much in relationship to how I was reacting to it and how I was moving. And so it was like as we were moving together, it was moving its body and I was ascribing all sorts of intelligence. It was quite fascinating in the sense where I couldn't predict what was going to happen. So this is a topic that I think has come up both with Ben Vance and talking to many different artists of this tension between order and chaos of trying to find this balance between not having something to be so ordered as it feels like a tool and not to be so chaotic as to not see any of your traces of agency and having any sort of interactivity at all. But somewhere in the middle where it feels like you're able to see some traces of your agency, but also it's just completely unpredictable enough. Well, not too much, not too unpredictable. And so what Kevin said is that there's this threshold between order and chaos where your brain wants to be able to discern a pattern. That's just what our brains do with the predictive coding model of neuroscience. There's this model of our experiences that we have in our world, and then we observe, and then there's this And if there is a difference, then we have to adapt and learn. And that process is this learning process that actually has this evolutionary element of stimulating dopamine because we need to be able to learn and be rewarded by learning so that we can actually survive. So it's actually kind of part of our evolutionary process to be striving towards this sense of wonder and awe. So we want to be able to discern a pattern but not be able to completely predict the pattern because we want that novelty. We're striving for this perpetual novelty and that he's trying to create this experience that keeps you giving this sense of awe and wonder because our brain is constantly adapting and so he himself has to create an experience that is also changing and evolving over time because as you are growing, then it also has to grow and adapt. And so he's saying that's the same reason why we enjoy music, that we like to predict things and like to get it right, but we also like to be surprised. And so we don't want to be able to predict it completely and don't want to be surprised constantly. So it's this balance and we're going through that learning process and getting these different dopamine hits. So I did see these different interactions, even though, again, like I said, I knew that it was ascribed through this different algorithmic system that Kevin had created. It actually did feel like there was a human or some sort of intelligent entity that was behind it and that we start to ascribe it different aspects of personalities and traits. And to me, that's just fascinating to see, like, how do you start to define those different elements of that character? And I asked Kevin if he believed that there were some sort of universals that were these transcendent forms, and, you know, this gets into these different debates within the philosophy of mathematics as to whether or not mathematical objects are invented or discovered, and whether or not there is this transcendent realm of ideal forms, which is what a mathematical realist or a mathematical Platonist would say. And then there's this other side, which is just to say, well, there is no transcendent realms. It's all this naturalistic world, and these are just semantic descriptions, and there's actually nothing there beyond that. So Kevin is on that side of thinking that there are these universal design principles and that in some ways a lot of the work he's doing is trying to, through his own design intuition, try to discover what those are and then through this formalization of creating all these different elements of these personalities perhaps start to slowly suss out what are the fundamental character traits and virtues that you can see in these artificial intelligent beings. So I think you can go back to philosophy and look at different moral virtues and try to actually use a lot of leverage from philosophy to be able to help define what those universal aspects could be. And I think that would be covered in the passions and these moral virtues and, uh, yeah, these different elements of character and personality. There's lots of other literature, of course, from the psychological literature as well, that starts to describe it, but trying to make this bridge between the mathematical formalization of what are these different elements. Just even the spectrum between order and chaos is one dimension of that in terms of the structure of how much you can predict things and how much is going to be totally unpredictable. But there's going to be many other different aspects of these intelligences that need to be worked out. And that's a lot of what Kevin Mac is working on, in part because he's seeing that there's going to be a lot of really scary futures with artificial intelligence and he wants to try to create this conscious AI that is imbued with compassion and he wants to create these virtual beings that are native to virtual reality. So because they are in VR, then they don't necessarily need a lot of the same things that exist in concrete reality may need. And so there could be completely new evolutionary dynamics. And so he sees that current intelligence serves the function of competition and conflict and predator prey relationships and selection pressures and environmental pressures and resource management. But in VR, you're not necessarily constrained by those different types of resources that you see within these other aspects of natural selection. And so he's doing all these different genetic algorithms and coming up with these principles of trying to actually design something that is intelligent artificial life that's based upon compassion and love and cooperation and not these principles of competition and conflict. And to me, it's striking that there's a whole physical movement and embodiment that happens and how, you know, if you just look at principles of embodied cognition, you know, this is something where neuroscientists like Craig Chapman talks about how moving is thinking. So if you can see how somebody is moving, then you can see how they're thinking. And so when you're in these specialized environments and you're seeing these blurts move around, their motion gets translated by you as what they're thinking. And it's quite an intuitive process that your mind naturally does. So it's kind of like this cognitive science hack that I think Kevin Mack is stumbling upon, but kind of working with these almost virtual pet type of entities, which is where a lot of innovation happens within artificial intelligence is in creating these virtualized pets. But he's seeing how intelligence kind of goes back to these steering behaviors. So in other words, how you're moving around and how you're navigating and looking at these mathematical backgrounds of flocking and swarming. And when it's actually just a bunch of random gibberish, we're actively ascribing meaning to it and creating all sorts of stories about it. So he wants to really build these creatures who have this level of directed randomness and are exhibiting all these different types of complex emergent behaviors. And finally, it does really seem like this fundamental operating principle of creating this sense of awe and wonder is everything that Kevin Mac is trying to do. He sees it as if he's able to do that, then he's able to satisfy his own desires for awe and wonder. But as he shares it, then people have all sorts of really deep and profound experiences with things like Plortasia and Ananda and Zen Parade. And he just sees that virtual reality has this capability to be able to expand our consciousness and to be able to eventually reach these enlightened states and that You know, it's a little bit of this techno utopian perspective that he's given that it's going to be able to use technology to solve our problems and to be able to cure all of our diseases and to have absolutely no constraint on resources and that we'll be able to do anything, be anyone and to go anywhere. So that'd be amazing. if we're able to do that, but I think that there are certainly limits and constraints to technology. And there's certainly whole other layers of economics and culture and the laws that are surrounding all this. That I think it also just has to be in alignment with all this ecology and make sure that this technology that we're building is actually ecologically sustainable, because if that doesn't happen, then I don't think we're going to sort of reach this utopian vision of what the technology could help us achieve. So that's all that I have for today, and I just wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you enjoyed the podcast, then please do spread the word, tell your friends, leave a review on iTunes, and consider becoming a member of the Patreon. This is a listener-supported podcast, and so I do rely upon your gracious donations in order to continue to bring you this coverage. Suggested amount would be five dollars a month but really any amount or if you want to give even more every little bit helps me to continue to Sustain the work that I'm doing here. Not only for yourself, but for the entire virtual reality community So you can become a member and donate today at patreon.com slash voices of VR. Thanks for listening

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