19th-20th May, Microsoft Reactor, San Francisco CA

Emotions, music and VR are central to what we do at Melodrive. That’s why we’ve decided to organise #EmoJam, a weekend dedicated to hacking emotion, VR, games and music. We have envisaged a hackathon that addresses perhaps the most salient problem for interactive storytelling, AI, and VR: emotion. Emotion is a notorious puzzle for just about any field that deals with the mind/brain. It is clear that we have emotions to help us survive in the world. Without these, we would certainly be a different, although perhaps nonetheless intelligent machine. On the whole, it seems that we are not usually just interested in what intelligence is and how to model it, but we’re specifically interested in a particular brand of intelligence, namely human intelligence. And emotion plays a large part in that.


Emotion in VR and Storytelling

The persistent and widespread fascination with emotion is a testament to the value we humans ascribe to it. And for VR, XR, and storytelling, emotion is a profoundly important consideration, because it concerns how people are engaged with and immersed in a medium. For AI, it is surely one of those Really Hard Problems in research that must be addressed at the earliest opportunity. To put emotion into a computer, so to speak, is perhaps one of the most difficult challenges, because computers are not grounded in the real world. A computer doesn’t have to eat, sense, grow, age, and be social, and so these necessary paths to emotion are denied at the root. Maciamo Hay, writing for H+ Magazine, sums this up pretty succinctly:

Just like machines cannot reasonably feel hunger because they do not eat, replicating emotions on machines with no biological body, no hormones, and no physiological needs can be tricky.

We’d love you to come and help us explore a broad spectrum of themes: interactive storytelling, cognitive science, music research, AI, and VR, and their connection with emotion. If you’re an enthusiast, researcher or professional in any of these technological subcultures, and wish to engage in hacking emotion, come take part. It is organised by Melodrive, and jointly hosted with Microsoft, at the Microsoft Reactor, San Fransisco, CA. By the way, we’re following this up with a similarly themed hackathon in Berlin in mid-June (an #EmoJam World Tour!), which is closer to the hub of the Melodrive HQ, and may be more convenient for European dwellers.

The #EmoJam Format

Marxist ideology excepted, gentle competition, carefully tempered by the delicate thrust of pitching pressure and a rewards system (prizes), is an amiable surrogate mother of innovation. We don’t want to foster a competitive atmosphere; there will be positive energy all the way. It’ll be fun, fun, fun, until daddy takes the T-bird away — which, of course, will only be at the end of the hackathon, and not before. This enterprise will strengthen the crossover between the AI, VR and storytelling communities, encouraging strategies to understand each other, as well as encouraging talented newcomers into the arena. Joking aside, we want everyone to take part happily and confidently; all those with interests in the aforementioned sectors are welcome.

While we’re promoting innovation and creativity in the hackathon, we also want it to be light and breezy, giving time for us to learn from each other. We don’t want to swim too deep in problems, and risk developing the bends. The trick is not to go into topics too deeply and not to come out too quickly, and to communicate and collaborate with each other throughout. That’s why we’re having short and snappy, but concentrated sessions over two days, with lots of social time. That’s a good plan. And also, let’s eat and drink well there for goodness’ sake. Hence we have timetabled a nice long lunch break, and with good free food to boot.

When you come you will get to know some of the team, and draw from the expertise of our invited delegates, as well as rub shoulders with like-minded folks. (Noam Chomsky once said to never trust anyone that used the word ‘folks’, but my use here is pretty innocuous, I assure you.)  Melodrive ourselves are a great bunch of musicians-developers-theorists, if I do say so myself, and are happy to talk your heads off about our new products too, so please don’t be afraid to engage with and even challenge us about our work. We’re developing an interactive DAM system that adapts to the emergent situations in gaming and VR environments, producing emotionally synergetic music with gaming and VR experiences on the fly. But while we’re confident with our invention, we would still love your feedback. We’re looking for collaborations, and are interested in how you might approach the problem of emotion, particularly with storytelling, music, and AI.

Our very own Ryan Groves, award-winning researcher and all-round nice guy, will preside over the sessions, and will be encouraging collaboration as well as giving lots of insight into what we do at Melodrive.

Speaker Lineup

We have a great lineup of pioneers in the interactive media community, as well as seasoned researchers on music and technology that we have invited for talks.

Blair Kaneshiro

Blair is a prolific research scientist on perception and engagement in sound and music, and has done some amazing research in the field.

Angela Fields

Angela is co-founder of Expressive.AI, which is a new AI-based cultural product, combining art practice and AI research practice.

Jesse Damiani

Jesse is editor for VRScout, one of the world’s leading immersive companies, and CEO of Galatio, a writing and project-management tool for immersive storytelling.

Lucas Rizzotto

Lucas is an award-winning extended reality (XR) creator, and founder of Where Thoughts Go.

Whatever your views on emotion, the challenge of a science of the emotions is a persistent riddle, maybe because we somehow know that it is at the core of being, and is vitally important for immersion and engagement in technology. This is a topic that is fascinating, and so is well deserving of our attention, so let’s hack it!

This event promises to be an illuminating meetup that should jump out on your calendar. Don’t miss it.

Register for the event here!