Whether it’s in a video game or at a kiosk at a mall, interacting with a computer-generated character can sometimes be an eye-rolling experience. Its responses are limited and often not helpful and the whole exercise can feel like a waste of time.
But what if that character not only had all the benefits of generative AI, but also of spatial awareness? That, potentially, could take things to the next level.
The technology will initially show up in video games, where players can talk to non-player characters (NPCs), who will give more than canned responses and even interact with the in-game environment. But the use cases extend far beyond gaming, says founder and CEO Purnendu Mukherjee.
In fact, the company’s client list is split evenly between game developers and non-gaming and educational institutes.
“Think of 3D holograms,” says Mukherjee. “Every time they get used, they can give directions. They can also serve as agents for brands and can suggest or recommend a product as well.”
Convai’s AI runs on the cloud. Characters in games or in other environments “see” and “hear” your question. Responses are sent back to the host device and rendered locally (meaning the computer generated character emotes as they reply).
“What we are doing is giving these NPCs a mind,” says Mukherjee. “So much so that they’re able to have a natural conversation with us. You can talk to them about anything. Not only can you do a voice-to-voice conversation, they show emotion. They have the right facial expressions. And in a 3D environment, the next level of cognition is they can perceive the environment and interact with it.”
AI is still a fairly new technology, so the interactions you have with these characters won’t be quite like the ones you have with a person. There’s a slight, but noticeable delay in replies. And some conversations can be a bit stilted.
Mukherjee began the company in April of 2022, after leaving a position at Nvidia. He bootstrapped it with his own savings for 10 months, then received $5 million in seed funding to grow the idea. Prashant Mishra, then a Google engineer, eventually joined as co-founder and the company was on its way. Today it has more than 30 employees.
Convai’s tech will be most apparent in video games for the near future. A number of developers, both small, medium and large are working with it to make titles more interactive. Expect smaller games to roll out first, with releases from larger, better-known teams in another two to three years.
“Gaming, in our opinion, is the super set of all necessary features,” says Mukherjee. “There’s a lot of room for innovation. … We want to be developers’ number one choice when it comes to creating these virtual humans or NPCs. We know they can be taken to a whole new level.”
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