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Inworld AI raised $50 million to fund its developer platform that allows the creation of AI-driven virtual characters for video games and in the metaverse.
The company raised the funds in March and is now announcing it. John Gaeta, a pioneer in entertainment and special effects, was also appointed chief creative officer. The company’s idea is to populate games with smarter computer-controlled characters so that players can have longer conversations with them and feel like the world is much more immersive.
Conversational AI pioneers Michael Ermolenko and Ilya Gelfenbeyn founded the company one year ago.
Kylan Gibbs. The company raised the money to bring richer social interactions of smarter computer-controlled characters — known as NPCs, or non-player characters — to immersive worlds in gaming, metaverses, entertainment, and brand experiences.
Section 32 and Intel Capital led the round, which also included investments from Founders Fund, Accelerator Investments, First Spark Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Bitkraft Ventures, CRV, Microsoft’s M12 fund, Micron Ventures, LG Technology Ventures, SK Telecom Venture Capital, and The Venture Reality Fund.
MetaBeat, a gathering of thought leaders that will provide guidance on how metaverse tech will transform all industries’ communication and business operations on October 4, in San Francisco, CA.
Inworld, like Ryan Reynolds’ movie Free Guy, brings NPCs alive for gaming, metaverse and business applications. Virtual worlds have become more immersive and realistic. However, interactions with the characters have remained static and rely on scripted behavior and dialogue.
Ilya Gelfenbeyn, Inworld CEO, said, “In the last year, we’ve seen research that shows that online relationships can be as meaningful as those formed in real life. Inworld allows you to create non-playable characters (NPCs), native populations for virtual realms, influencers and brand.
In-world guides and representatives as well as digital humans who can establish relationships with users.
unlock deeper engagement. This is the future of entertainment–stories that are told through
Characters with rich inner lives are invited to take part in immersion.
to the next level.”
Inworld employs advanced AI to create generative characters whose personalities and thoughts are modeled after human interaction.
“Inworld’s AI platform removes the complexities of developing intelligent, virtual characters with the potential to unlock a variety of new online experiences,” said Andy Harrison, managing partner at Section 32, inf. “Applications for Inworld’s platform transcend what’s possible in gaming and the metaverse alone and enable enterprises to deliver rich, on-brand experiences with AI-powered virtual characters capable of delivering memorable user experiences.”
Inworld’s platform includes a no-code studio, which makes it possible to create AI characters for writers, designers, and authors. Additionally, integrations with popular game engines like Unity and Unreal allow developers to easily deploy characters into game environments.
“The demand for immersive content and experiences is rising, ushering in a thriving creator economy and unlocking opportunities for individual developers,” said Srini Ananth, managing director at Intel Capital, in a statement. “Inworld AI has quickly become a trusted resource for developers, who are flocking to the platform to create AI-powered virtual characters with human-like speech, facial gestures and body language for immersive realities including the metaverse, VR/AR, games, and virtual worlds.”
Since Inworld’s founding in July 2021, the company has raised a total of approximately $70
million, including the $50 million Series A. This is after pre-seeding rounds totaling
Close to $20 million
Inworld, which closed its seed round in March 2022 has released its beta product. Academy was hired.
Gaeta was awarded the Chief Creative Officer award and was one of six companies selected to join 2022 Disney Accelerator.
This year’s Disney Accelerator class is focused on building the future of immersive experiences and specializes in technologies such as augmented reality (AR), non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and artificial intelligence (AI) characters. Inworld has broad applications outside of gaming and metaverse, and can also be used for entertainment, sales and marketing, and training & education.
Gelfenbeyn was the founder of API.AI, an AI startup that he sold to Google in 2016. After spending several years together, Gelfenbeyn and his cofounders decided that they would move on to the next startup with a focus on AI technology in gaming.
“The big difference is that we are focused on immersive realities, meaning like games, the metaverse, and some non-gaming environments like corporate training and virtual events,” Gelfenbeyn said in an interview with Gamesbeat. “These worlds are developing fast, but maybe not as fast as we would all like them to do.”
He added, “If you’re going to be living in these extreme online environments and they are immersive enough, then you’ll want all other aspects of real life, like the people around you, to be realistic as well. So our idea is to build the tools so that all types of creators and game designers can actually build characters to make these worlds more engaging, more lifelike, and comfortable.”
Gaeta stated that he had been on this journey independently for a lot of his career with a focus in immersive realities such as his time working on Star Wars films and The Matrix movies.
“I always thought that what we were working on in film would be technological building blocks for what we could do in virtual reality simulations,” Gaeta said. “I’ve seen a lot of my colleagues from 20 years ago migrate into triple-A games because it was frustrating that the world would end when the movie ended.”
Gaeta wanted the opportunity to walk through sci-fi universes and meet people. Gaeta claimed that he is a part of all of the Silicon Valley lab experimentation where futuristic media experiments are taking place. At the beginning of HoloLens and LucasFilm, he worked with Microsoft. He saw the rapidity with which the visions were moving towards the metaverse. This was a big surprise during the pandemic.
Gaeta stated that it would be fascinating to create worlds that are not only populated by humans but also by characters who can allow them to have great storytelling and an interactive experience. He met with the founders of Inworld AI and felt, “There is the beginning of the vessel I need to begin with the population of a virtual destination. I am convinced this is the beginning of an amazing road.”
Gaeta shared that he was inspired over the years to create AI characters by sci-fi like Philip K. Dick and Steven Spielberg.
“Most of the characters we come across are agents of others, and those days are about to change,” Gaeta said. “It’s a democratization of AI and hopefully all will benefit as we go into this metaverse. What I want, essentially, is something that’s unconditionally caring for me. The only way this is going to be really interesting is if it brings joy, and it’s fun, and it’s not laborious or harmful.”
He added, “Just imagine the art form that’s coming when literally a kid could generate a whole new personality, a wonderful character in a matter of minutes. And it’s so intuitive to the point that within minutes, you’re actually able to have conversations. It’s easy to see the appeal of sharing these creations. It’s almost like having a kid or like having a pet that you share with people. And so I think that this is potentially an amazing new form of imagination and art coming.”
A big problem in gaming:
We’ve all had the experience of meeting characters in games and talking to them. As cameo characters, they talk for a few sentences, then they go into a hibernation where they repeat what they were fed. What if they could talk to you for hours?
Although you could turn these characters into human beings, it would be difficult to maintain consistency in storytelling and determine if those humans will be available online. The NPCs must do more of the heavy lifting for the storytelling. They only work well if the characters are believable. A key part of that is giving them the intelligence, through technologies such as OpenAI Foundation’s GPT-3, to speak like humans.
Gaeta explained that this platform allows developers and players to create roles for actors of any type, human or non-human.
“Hiring a real person for a role is not really scalable, once you get to a million daily active users,” Gaeta said. “You cannot do it at scale. This is why we train the character based upon role descriptions. You describe the role with natural language and determine their personal trains and motivations.”
Inworld AI employs around 20 machine learning models to manage different aspects of a character’s personality, which is different from the OpenAI model. Gelfenbeyn stated that an orchestration model oversees them all and they are all connected to convey realness through movements, gestures and appropriate emotions.
“We are retrieving a character’s memory and goals and apply something relevant to the conversation,” he said.
This character should be able recall relevant memories from a conversation and not just the latest transcription.
“Our focus has to be on building characters that are really engaging and expressive so players enjoy talking to them,” Gelfenbeyn said. “The character doesn’t have to show that they are the smartest person in the room. But the user should really enjoy interacting with the character.”
The AI roadmap
However, not all bank teller designs need to be as good as Brad Pitt. On the other hand, Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy movie was about liberating a bank teller AI to be more than they were programed to be. The tell works with a game engine and can tell it to do things such as make a human character smile at just the right time in a conversation.
“We’ve very focused on creativity,” said Gelfenbeyn. “We will work with MetaHuman and other avatar builders out there so we can generate visuals, gestures, and animations and emotions for a character.”
The company isn’t necessarily trying to build the best human-like AI possible. It’s trying to build an actor in a story, and that is where some of the ethical considerations of what it is doing will have a clearly defined line. “The idea is social metaverse entertainment,” Gaeta said.
Gelfenbeyn stated that the company is currently working with several triple-a gaming studios and other companies to develop the technology. Some of these projects may be released this year or next. As it grows, the company will continue to use the Disney accelerator.
“Our sweet spot is when the developers are considering new technologies in their next set of releases,” Gaeta said.
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