If I turned to Ken Moss, chief technology officer at Electronic Arts, and asked him if one day his tech will let me upload my conscious into a digital utopia - I bet he'd look me square in the eyes and tell me yes. In an official EA blog post announcing Project Atlas, he mentions practically everything else.
Project Atlas will be a game development platform powered by cloud computing and futuristic AI. Moss hopes that devs will use it to create hyper-personalised "living, breathing worlds that constantly evolve", where your chats with NPCs are "virtually indecipherable from a human interaction". Presuming all this actually works.
Here's where Moss describes project Atlas most clearly:
"Project Atlas is designed to seamlessly converge EA’s Frostbite game engine and game services as well as artificial intelligence — giving rise to a new game development platform, optimized for a cloud-enabled world. This will be a fully integrated platform, capable of building the scalable, social, and large-scale experiences of the future. So, while in the past, features like cloud hosting, matchmaking, marketplace, data, AI, achievements, and social were separate from the development tools in the engine, the Project Atlas platform will be able to implement all of these services natively within a unified solution."
It's a very interesting post. Moss starts by describing electric dreams that make Star Citizen's goals look modest, then goes on to talk about how Project Atlas will bring together various nascent technologies into a creation engine that sounds like its been ripped from science fiction.
Yet that overwhelming grandeur coalesces into little more than underwhelming pants. Pants sewn from buzzwords.
EA say they've been "developing software that utilizes the cloud to remotely process and stream blockbuster, multiplayer HD games with the lowest possible latency", but cloud computing in that vein has been around for yonks. It's marrying this to as yet non-existent AI that excites Moss, "blurring the lines between the discrete domains of game engines and game services. In fact, it is the merging of these two formerly distinct domains, along with the paradigm of cloud gaming, that is a key driver of the next-generation unified platform from EA." It's difficult to pinpoint what that means.
Let's go back to the grandeur. Among other fantasies, Moss discusses how Atlas might deliver multiplayer open worlds with "infinite scalability from the cloud", and "hyper-realistic destruction within new HD games, that is virtually indistinguishable from real life".
They've got "over 1000 EA employees working on building it every day", according to Moss. I am genuinely glad there are people out there with humongous resources and their sights set high, but I'm a bit worried they're craning their heads so far upwards their necks might fall off.
That goal of reality-level nuance and fidelity permeates the post: "Designers will within seconds generate not just a single mountain, but a series of mountains and all the surrounding environment with the realism of the real-world". If you've ever dreamt about something that seemed technologically impossible in a game, chances are its covered here.
When Moss gives a specific example of a realistic, AI-powered interaction with an NPC, he chooses - of all things - contextual sports commentary when you make a specific play in Madden. The lead-up to this simply mentions "leveraging AI and machine learning":
"So, instead of a pre-scripted, pattern-based logic for NPC behavior, this would make it possible for an NPC to engage in a way that is dynamic, contextual and absolutely believable. For example, imagine that you’re playing Madden, and you’ve just thrown your second interception of the game against the same cover 2 defense that caused the first turnover. Instead of the commentator simply stating that you threw a pick, the AI enables contextual, real-time commentary to reference the fact that you’re throwing to the sideline against a cover 2 defense and should have thrown against the weak zone over the middle to your tight end, who was open on the route. This would certainly push the game into a greater level of contextual and experiential realism. The AI is working with your gameplay. It’s responding to your needs as a player."
So much hinges on pie in the sky AI: "When AI is available everywhere, developers will use it to optimize almost any element of a game — from the distribution of resources in an online shooter, to populating and evolving expansive virtual worlds with minimal manual intervention, to unlocking deep personalization of in-game agents at scale."
The idea that algorithms might become capable of moulding experiences using a deep understanding of individual preferences isn't one to dismiss out of hand. AI exists right now with the disturbing capability to build and act on personality profiles harvested from mass data. That capability for manipulation is scary, but those same capabilities could be used to anticipate desires and craft worlds, experiences and art that hones in on personal taste. It's something I can get quite excited about it, in the right context - but this soup of marketing jargon isn't one of them.
It's all ambition, grand statements about glistening palaces of AI achievement with a murky view of the path to reach them. But if EA want to set more than a thousand people marching down that path, I won't complain. If they keep marching long enough, they're bound to reach somewhere one day.