What is an embodied agent?

by Stephen M. Walker II, Co-Founder / CEO

What is an embodied agent?

An embodied agent in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) is an intelligent agent that interacts with its environment through a physical or virtual body. This interaction can be with a real-world environment, in the case of physically embodied agents like mobile robots, or with a digital environment, in the case of graphically embodied agents like Ananova and Microsoft Agent.

Embodied agents are capable of engaging in face-to-face interaction with humans through both verbal and non-verbal behavior. They are employed in situations where joint activities occur, requiring the ability to perceive, interpret, and reason about intentions, beliefs, desires, and goals to perform the right actions.

Embodied conversational agents, a subset of embodied agents, integrate gestures, facial expressions, and voice to enable face-to-face communication with users. This provides a powerful means of human-computer interaction. They have been used in various applications, including virtual training environments, portable personal navigation guides, interactive fiction and storytelling systems, interactive online characters, and automated presenters and commentators.

While major virtual assistants like Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant are intelligent agents, they do not come with any visual embodiment and hence are not considered embodied agents.

What are some examples of embodied agents in AI?

Embodied agents in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) are intelligent agents that interact with their environment through a physical or virtual body. Here are some examples of embodied agents:

  1. Mobile Robots — These are physically embodied agents that interact with the real-world environment. They are equipped with sensors (like cameras, pressure sensors, accelerometers) that capture data from their surroundings, enabling them to move around their environment and interact with objects.

  2. Ananova and Microsoft Agent — These are examples of graphically embodied agents. They are represented graphically with a body, for example, a human or a cartoon animal, and interact with a digital environment.

  3. Spot Robot by Boston Dynamics — This is an example of an AI-embodied agent in robotics. It uses AI algorithms to understand and interact with the physical world more efficiently. For instance, it uses the Visual Cortex 1 algorithm to enhance its ability to interact with objects, ensuring precision and effectiveness in tasks like pick-and-place operations.

  4. Embodied Conversational Agents — These are a form of intelligent user interface that unites gesture, facial expression, and speech to enable face-to-face communication with users. They have been used in various applications, including virtual training environments, portable personal navigation guides, interactive fiction and storytelling systems, interactive online characters, and automated presenters and commentators.

It's important to note that while major virtual assistants like Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant are intelligent agents, they do not come with any visual embodiment and hence are not considered embodied agents.

How do embodied agents differ from traditional AI systems?

Embodied agents differ from traditional AI systems in several key ways:

  1. Interaction with the Environment — Unlike traditional AI systems that learn from static datasets, embodied agents learn by interacting with a physical or virtual environment. This interaction allows embodied agents to perceive, interpret, and act within their environment, which can lead to more realistic simulations and improved learning efficiency.

  2. Physical or Virtual Embodiment — Embodied agents have a physical or virtual form that enables them to interact with their environment in a meaningful way. This can be a physical robot that navigates and manipulates objects in the real world, or a virtual avatar that uses gestures, facial expressions, and speech to communicate with users. In contrast, traditional AI systems typically exist within a virtual environment and interact with humans through predefined interfaces.

  3. Use of Social Cues — Embodied agents have access to different social cues compared to their non-embodied counterparts. These social cues can be used to improve human-machine interaction and make the agent's actions more understandable to human users.

  4. Behavior and Appearance Generation — Embodied agents, particularly embodied conversational agents, can generate realistic behavior and appearance. Traditional AI systems typically use rule-based methods to generate animations, while modern embodied agents use deep learning models to create end-to-end animations.

In essence, the key difference between embodied agents and traditional AI systems lies in the emphasis on physical or virtual embodiment and its interactions with the environment. This embodiment allows the agents to learn from their environment, use social cues, and generate realistic behavior and appearance, providing a more natural and intuitive interaction experience for users.

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