Bot Colony, the first game to use conversational English as the primary way to interact with characters, was launched today by Montreal game developer North Side Inc. An Open Alpha version is publicly available and can be downloaded from the Bot Colony site for $2.95. Bot Colony leverages a technological breakthrough in Natural Language Understanding (NLU), a problem scientists have been trying to solve for many years. Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is technical jargon for computer understanding of human language (English in the case of Bot Colony). The characters in Bot Colony understand what the player says, and are often able to respond in a cogent manner. North Side believes that the NLU capability of Bot Colony is superior to that of Apple’s Siri or IBM’s Watson.
North Side intends Bot Colony to offer a first-hand experience of realistic verbal communication with intelligent machines, much like the interactions depicted in sci-fi movies like The Space Odyssey, I, Robot or Blade Runner. This interaction is designed to be both challenging and entertaining.
Bot Colony leverages North Side’s proprietary natural language understanding (NLU) technology – deep Artificial Intelligence. North Side first started R&D in NLU in 2001 and invested over $18 million in R&D. Currently, the software understands English sufficiently well to enable players to complete game levels, as long as they don’t veer too much off topic. Off topic conversations are also supported – and characters use them as an opportunity to learn new concepts from the player.
North Side credits the worldwide interest in its game (thousands have signed up to test the game) to individuals who want to practice English conversation. Bot Colony offers to non-native speakers an immersive experience of being in an English speaking country without traveling there.
After the heavy investments made in R&D and the first two game episodes, North Side is seeking fan funding to complete development of the game (targeted at 12 episodes) and to begin efforts towards a planned multiplayer sequel. The company hopes that fans will help fund the development through the purchase of monthly memberships, episodes and the Bot Colony novel, now offered in eBook format.