Interview

Speaker Spotlight: Wingman AI Agents' John O'Malia on the future of AI tech and gaming

Speaker Spotlight: Wingman AI Agents' John O'Malia on the future of AI tech and gaming

Pocket Gamer Connects London 2019 will take place on January 21st to 22nd. To give you a taste of what to expect, we'll regularly be publishing interviews with the speakers at the show.

For more details on PGC London and to book a ticket, head to the website here.

In today’s speaker spotlight, we're talking to Wingman AI Agents CEO John O'Malia, who will be giving a talk called "Meet your new, improved teammate: Human-directed AI agents for Games".

O'Malia has experience in finance, management and online gaming and has successfully started, sold and managed or turned around consumer internet and gaming businesses including PartyGaming.

He has spent the last three years building human-directed AI agents that listen and adapt to users to empower new achievements.

PocketGamer.Biz: Tell us a bit about the company

With all of the talk and excitement about AI, until today there was no way for people without technical expertise to interact with and explore the power of AI. 

Wingman creates this unique and amazing human/AI bridge that enables anyone, using natural language, to command and direct AI agents as their player or part of their team.

We started with gaming partly because of OpenAI's work with DOTA2; it created a huge amount of demand by players to interact with those AI "players". So we thought "hey...let's make that happen".

We set ourselves the "impossible" goal of making StarCraft playable on mobile. AI is generally bad at StarCraft; the game needs human intuition and strategy.

So we put human players in charge of strategy, using voice, and having the agent do its best to act out the human's instructions. The result is amazing - it turns this complex, desktop game into a combination of strategy and a team-work game between human and AI.

And to be clear; Wingman is not about making bots that pretend to be players. We're about new modes of play that make clear that you're playing against other humans/AI teams, unlocking a huge new range of game and tournament dynamics. 

But Wingman also makes for dynamic and easy-to-implement NPCs!

What does your role entail? 

As founder and CEO, I spend half of my time on technology; reading papers on AI and working with the team to make sure we're implementing the very best algorithms and weaving them together optimally to serve people.

No other group is combining reinforcement learning with human language in the way we are, so the technology challenges are fascinating.

The other half of my time I spend on communicating the product vision to the gaming community and beyond so that we can empower millions of people with these agents.

There are many other sectors beyond gaming where we're seeing interest in improving people's potential through the computational power of AI, such as drug discovery, big data exploration and robotics.

Why did you want to work in the games industry?

I'll risk showing my age by saying that as a kid I got my first Apple 2+ when it came out. 

I was about 11, and my time was split evenly between coding it and playing games. Ever since then I've been fascinated by the similarity between gaming and real-life challenges.

With Wingman, we turn this up to 11 and we use gaming to introduce to the whole world a technology which we think will be the future of work, play and the world in general.

I'd much rather have AI serving humans in the future than any other scenario, and to get that result there has to be a great way for humans and AI to interact.

That's what Wingman is about, and I think gaming can unlock this future for all of us. 

I can't wait to see what other game publishers and gamers will come up with once they see that human/AI teams are possible.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into it?

I think that games are a kind of perfect blend of creativity and rigorous thought.

You have to do your homework and know upfront what works and what doesn't, but then you have to go beyond what has been done before and create something new and amazing that catches people's attention.

For anyone out there who has great ideas about how human players and AI can interact in the future, drop us a line!

What are your thoughts on the industry in the last 12 months?

It seems that smaller game shops have an increasing challenge to cut through the clutter and get their brand noticed, with an increasing focus on the mega-titles out there.

I do believe that we need some new dynamics, including in app stores, to shake things up and improve discovery.

What major trends do you predict in the next 12 months?

I believe that human-directed AI agents are going to give innovative studios a way to excite players that the big studios are too busy to notice until the trend is well underway.

I think people are going to be streaming their interactions and tournaments, playing through or alongside their agents, and you'll see some amazing dynamics evolve. 

I think that generally, tools like Unity's ML toolkit are going to lead to a lot of innovation.

We're also working on some human-language based AI meta-tools for game creation, which I think will make innovation and production faster.

The coming decade will be all about making it possible to take an idea into production 10 times faster than now, with AI doing a lot of heavy, mechanical work for the amazing creative teams out there.

How has the games industry changed since you first started?

Wow, well I still remember making sounds and music by selecting cycle times and duration directly to the speaker. 

The range of tools that exist today is mind-blowing, and it's just now accelerating again with AI.

I can't wait to see (and help facilitate) what's next.

Which part of the Connects event are you most looking forward to and why?

The people attending are amazing - we're looking forward to exchanging ideas with the leaders in this space, and finding ways to delight and surprise players!

Find out more about Pocket Gamer Connects London 2019 on the website.


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