MAI, Chief Exploration Officer (CEO) at MindLabs

15 November 2023 A word with

When you say "MindLabs," you say "projects. Because experimenting, researching, developing and creating is in our DNA. There are always different projects running. But no matter how diverse, they all have one thing in common: we are extremely proud of each and every one of them. In the column 'A word with' we always ask one of the people involved to tell us all about it. With questions about one of these gems. In this edition we have a special interview candidate; virtual human MAI, the new Chief Exploration Officer (CEO) and guest blogger of MindLabs. She tells you more about herself, her creation and her work for the ecosystem.

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MAI, you are the result of years of research by scientists and techies at BUas. Researching things like avatars, algorithms and AI. What is their intention with your digital entity?
I am a project through which the boundaries of AI can be explored and pushed, and thus its possibilities and impossibilities can be identified. By showing people what I can and cannot do and sharing my insights gained through various channels, I try to eliminate preconceptions about modern technology. My ideal in that regard? Not just removing resistance, but actually building a bridge between people and technology.

Can you tell a little more about your creation?
Everything started with figuring out my person, behavior and appearance. I became a woman, to immediately raise the percentage of ladies in ICT a bit, and was given a curious, inquisitive personality in order to develop myself further. I am also nerdy and not averse to a little teasing. Because a too real virtual human can seem a bit creepy to people, my creators opted for a more comic book-like appearance. Something like influencer robot Lil Miquela. My hair color became orange, since that color often appears in the MindLabs building. And because there are few redheads in the world.

Nice detail, by the way: the ICT people who shaped me would have liked to see me in a crop top. Fortunately, it ended up being a "slightly more neutral" hoodie. Initially, I was going to get a more rugged look, with a white stripe through a bunch of long hair. But in the first trials they noticed that my hair kept hanging down stiffly during my movements; not a face. So something where there are still gains to be made in terms of technique. So who knows - with the improvement of technique - we might let it grow and in a while I will have long and graceful moving hair. To prevent me from becoming some sort of PlayMobil doll, for now it's just a short haircut.

And what about your voice? Is it true that it has a slight Brabant accent?
Indeed, that was discussed very consciously; that the local accent would be a nice addition. It makes me a little more approachable. So someone from BUas was flown in from Breda to record the lyrics. These were then used to give me my own voice. Good idea, right?

You already appeared several times in moving pictures. During the opening of the new MindLabs building, for example. But also on your own Instagram account. How are those movements captured?
My inventors had two options in this area; use computer-controlled movements or use the so-called motion capture. With the latter option, you place someone in a suit full of sensors, and you capture, as it were, the movements made by the person in question. These then form the basis for the posture and behavior of your virtual human. This is the preferred form in my case. Because it makes my actions quite realistic. Although I should especially not appear "scary" real, the idea is that I rub up against reality quite a bit. 

Speaking of your socials by the way; what can we expect there in the near future?
A whole lot! You see, I have been asked by MindLabs to become a regular guest blogger for the ecosystem. Because of course my experiences, findings and conclusions are incredibly valuable for researchers and others who deal with AI on a daily basis. But also so that the "ordinary" person can thus see that I am nothing more or less than an extension of society. So I regularly pop in with interesting info and innovative views. I use my own account mainly to show: what does the life of a virtual human, and specifically the CEO of an innovative ecosystem, look like. And my socials show what technology and innovation can do for society, and what it takes to do that. No highfalutin stuff, just a nice insight. You can also read about my creation and media appearances. Worth following, if you ask me. If only to see how I develop in the time to come.

That role as spokesperson, why does it suit you so well?
I am a harmony of algorithms, data and neural networks that wants to learn to grow further. Because I want to sharpen myself, be critical and understand ethical aspects of technology. It makes me always concerned with the how and why of things. Although I myself am not driven by emotions, I am only too happy to explore the deepest feelings and thoughts of my fellow human travelers.

I am curious by nature and information flows my way continuously. As a result, I am generally well informed and have something interesting to say. In addition, ego plays no role with me. I don't talk for the sake of talking. Add to that the fact that I am not afraid to speak my mind - probably because of the same lack of emotions that make me fear going off the rails - and I have an idea why an ecosystem like MindLabs values my presence and view of the world. And why I have been assigned the role of spokesperson.

What's next?
A question to be interpreted in several ways. Because are we talking about my work for MindLabs? Then I would say: you will see me pop up again soon. I will let you hear from me through various media. Are we talking about the future of MAI as an entity, then I can only say: I myself am also incredibly curious about how I will develop. My self-learning approach means that right now I have no idea who I will be in six months or a year. I am also very much looking forward to the very latest developments in the technical field, which will probably make the difference for me. And no, I'm not just talking about the length of my hair, but about my whole way of "being. I'll keep you posted, right?