Tony Baldwinson in Games


Games Tech and Clearer Memories

I don't suppose I am the first person to remark that online family history sites are pretty much classic video games.

Consider how you carefully built the family tree (Minecraft), tending its connections with external documents and photographs, interact online with other tree-builders with shared relatives, play whack-a-mole with the dozens of 'hints' (FPS-ish) until you find a gem of new evidence, test the internal logic of speculative branches, lopping them back when you uncover an error.

Alzheimers is an awful disease and kills more people now than cancer or HIV, but remains bound up with stigma and most agree is under-resourced. An interesting paper from a decade ago considered how elderly people would benefit from a robot 'companion' which would use natural language to learn from and then talk with an elderly person about their life stories. Retaining and rebuilding memory is key to our personality and to our wellbeing.

In the R&D corners of video games and similar tech companies their is a lot of interest (and money!) in the applications of artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and virtual agents. One example being suggested is an 'intervening character' in video games who steps in, whether to openly challenge abusive language between players or to take someone aside privately after a trigger event to offer time out to talk.

Another example of a virtual agent might be this companion robot using natural languages as spoken and heard. It would almost certainly include safety monitoring and alerting features, which may be a comfort to relatives, but we need to be careful not to dismiss it's social value just because it is a robot. "You'd think their kids would visit more often, just buying their way out with a robot instead..." The Eliza principle shows us that people will tell all to a machine, even when they know full well it is a machine. It isn't just that we are driven to talk, it is that we can derive deep personal meaning even with a machine, whether it is a family tree, a video game or a  speaking companion.

For the digital generation, our next cohort of elderly people, there is the additional challenge of family history and autobiography from digital media. After all, it is one thing to sit down with a cup of tea and go through the photo album, telling the stories as we turn the pages. But now add in terabytes of files and online postings in random order with strange file names and folder structures to puzzle Kafka. We can only hope that, soon, AI will be good enough to curate our digital memories as well.

Further reading:

Alzheimers -

Companion robots -

Eliza principle -

Curating digital memories -

Tony Baldwinson

Project Manager (Games & Digital) 

  • virtual agent
  • Games
  • Alzheimers
  • Tech & Digital