Andrew Stern: Virtual Babyz

  • ©,



    Virtual Babyz


Creation Year:



    Interactive installation



Artist Statement:

    In her recent book, “Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace,” Janet Murray suggests that interactive virtual characters “may mark the beginning of a new narrative format,” taking on the task of redefining what it means to be human in the face of artificial intelligence. This notion is fundamental to the design and implementation of Virtual Babyz, a CD-ROM program completed in October 1999.

    In Virtual Babyz, the user plays with and takes care of a group of autonomous virtual babies that live in a virtual house on the computer desktop. The Babyz are real-time 3D animated characters rendered in a cartoon-like style. Using a mouse to control a handshaped cursor, users directly touch, tickle, and pick up the Babyz, as well as pick up and use toys and objects in the virtual house. Through voice recognition, users speak simple words, and the Babyz listen to and understand their speech in real time. They learn to speak back in “baby talk.”

    The Babyz immediately respond to the user’s interactions with a variety of behaviors, depending on how the user interacts with them, how the Babyz feel at the time, and their individual personalities. A wide variety of body animations, emotional facial expressions, vocal sounds and baby-talk words are tightly integrated with a behavior-based artificial intelligence architecture. The result: characters that communicate their feelings and thoughts in a natural, performance-like way, rather than through traditional user-interface elements such as bar graphs, sliders, or text messages. Additionally, the characters have been specifically imbued with some long-term narrative intelligence, which further encourages users to experience their interactions as an ongoing “story.”

    In creating Babyz, we had two primary artistic and design goals. The first was to create the strongest interactive illusion of life we possibly could on a personal computer. This was achieved through a novel combination of a direct-interaction interface, expressive realtime 3D animation, and artificial intelligence programming that models goals, motivations, personality, and emotion. The final effect is surprisingly compelling, and it should be of interest to artists and technologists alike. Babyz are among the strongest, deepest implementations of virtual humans available to the general public to date.

    The second goal was to allow users to form emotional relationships with their Virtual Babyz. To achieve this, we chose characters that people recognize and understand how to interact with, presenting them in an unstructured, non-goal-oriented play context. The result is that users can easily suspend their disbelief and imagine that the Babyz are truly alive, so they feel empathetic, nurturing, and rewarded when interacting with the virtual characters, even over long periods of time. Users have already created over 100 Web sites for their adopted Babyz (


Affiliation Where Artwork Was Created:

    PF.Magic and Mindscape


    Additional team members for Babyz:
    Rob Fulop, John Rines, Mike Filippoff, Andrew Webster, Jan Sleeper, Neeraj Murarka, Bruce Sherrod, Dave Feldman and Darren Atherton

Other Information:

    Lead Designer, Behavior Engineer, original concept
    Andrew Stern

    Design Consultant, Animation Design, original concept
    Adam Frank

    Character design tools and engineering
    Ben Resner