Author: King’s College London

Societal acceptance of eXtended Reality (XR) systems will intrinsically depend upon the security of the interaction between the user and the system, which encompasses aspects such as privacy and trustworthiness. Establishing security thus necessitates treating the XR system as a socio-technical entity, wherein technology and human users engage in the exchange of messages and data. Both technology and users contribute to the overall security of the system, but they also have the potential to introduce vulnerabilities through unexpected or mutated behaviour. For instance, an XR system may misinterpret human actions due to limitations in its algorithms or understanding of human behaviour. Conversely, the users may make mistakes by deviating from the expected communication or interaction norms, which can trigger unintended responses or cause the system to start behaving unpredictably, thus disrupting the immersive experience and unknowingly compromising the system’s security.

Security developers and analysts have so far focused on XR systems primarily as technical systems, constructed upon software processes, digital communication protocols, cryptographic algorithms, and so forth. They concentrate on addressing the complexity of the system they are developing or analyzing, often neglecting to consider the human user as an integral part of the system’s security. In essence, they do not consider the importance of human factors and their impact on security. Essentially, there exists an intricate interplay between the technical aspects and the social dynamics, such as user interaction processes and behaviours, but state-of-the-art approaches are not adequately equipped to consider human behavioural or cognitive aspects in relation to the technical security of XR systems, as they typically focus on modelling basic communication systems.

To sum up, addressing security concerns of XR systems from a socio-technical lens, rather than a purely technical one, remains terra incognita, with no recognised methodologies or comprehensive toolset. Thus, formal and automated methods and tools need to be extended, or new ones developed from scratch, to tackle the challenges in designing secure content-sharing for XR systems and their interaction with humans who can misunderstand or misbehave. The Explainable Security (XSec) paradigm, which extends Explainable AI (XAI), can be considered in the security of the decisions and the explanations themselves, thereby contributing to the overall trustworthiness of the system. Moreover, since the composition of secure system components might still yield an insecure system, existing methods and tools must scale to verify that this composition yields indeed a secure XR system.

The SERMAS project aims to contribute by carrying out research and development in all of these directions.

From November 28th to December 1st, the SERMAS team was at the heart of innovation at the Immersive Tech Week 2023 in Rotterdam. This international gathering served as a convergence point for developers in the extended reality (XR) field, fostering collaboration, and highlighting projects and technologies that will shape the future of immersive technology.

One of the standout moments during the event was SERMAS's active participation in the F6S Innovation session titled "Connecting Founders to Horizon Europe Funding Opportunities." This session explained the role played by European funds in driving XR innovation to new heights and facilitating collaborative ventures. Besides showcasing SERMAS's objectives and opportunities, the session also showed vast opportunities for XR enthusiasts to access funding and support from Horizon Europe.

SERMAS shared the spotlight with other XR projects, each contributing to the immersive technology landscape in unique ways: VOX Reality, XR2Learn, XR4ED, and CORTEX2. This collective showcase demonstrated the diversity and depth of XR applications, illustrating how this technology reshapes industries and experiences across the board.

At the vibrant heart of the event, booths 18 and 19 served as the dynamic playground for all participating projects to share their technologies and captivating demos. Here, SERMAS, joined by the partners from DW Innovation and Spindox Labs, shared the preliminary outcomes of our project, shedding light on the latest developments in our pilots and presenting the innovative SERMAS Toolkit. These booths became the connection where attendees were not only introduced to our current endeavours but also gained insight into the trajectory we envision for the future of the SERMAS project.

Summing up, the Immersive Tech Week 2023 event was not merely a showcase of technology; it was an exciting glimpse into the future of the power of XR. We share here our thank you to the entire VRDays team for organising this event and providing a space for innovation and collaboration. 

Let’s see what the future holds for next year in XR and the SERMAS project. Don’t forget to join us on this journey as we continue to push the boundaries to make XR systems more socially acceptable.

See you next year!

Author: DW Innovation

The most excited we've seen the teenage brother of a consortium member this year, was when the makers of Baldur's Gate, a famous role-playing game (RPG), made the following announcement: Henceforth, players can change their avatars during the game. Gaming studio Patch 3 explained that with the new update, it'll be possible to customize characters even after exiting the respective editor. That's a novel thing in the world of avatar-based games, a feature enabled by the progress made in the field of generative AI. This technology now greatly simplifies the process of building virtual environments and its characters, thus enhancing the range of creative choices.

Avatars, AI, and the metaverse

So what is an avatar? Simply put, it's a virtual (maybe slightly fictitious) representation of yourself, capable of performing actions (e.g. engaging in conversations) in a digital space. It can also function as a bot modelled on a human counterpart. Or as an entirely virtual entity/agent without any blueprint in the physical world. Depending on the use case, generative AI can help design and change appearance, voices, movements, as well as thoughts and dialogues of an avatar in what is often referred to as the metaverse now. The concept of the avatar is actually decades old (think: Ultima, Second Life, World of Warcraft etc.), but it's only now – in the 2020s – that avatars are becoming an integral part of all kinds of digital services and entertainment.  How did we get to this point?

3D, XR, the pandemic, and "the way of the future"

A very brief explanation could go like this: Advancements in computer graphics and streaming had already enabled a shift from 2D to 3D in terms of avatars and agents and catapulted video calls into the mainstream in the late 2010s. And then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. People were isolated. And people quickly realized that social interaction is an essential and fundamental need. So a lot of companies started pumping a lot of money into extended reality (XR) tech and collaborative online spaces. In this context, popular gaming platforms like Roblox also invested heavily into the expansion of avatar tech (and there didn't seem to be any problems in funding all this).

Last year, an AI avatar of Elvis Presley thrilled the audience of "America's Got Talent". Created by a singer and a technologist working together, it gave a convincing performance of the song "Hound Dog". In London’s West End, the ABBA show "Voyage",  which features all four members of the Swedish band in avatar form, has hit the mark of one million spectators. ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus says that avatars are "the way of the future". And Tom Hanks is convinced that he will act beyond his grave – in the form of an AI-driven avatar. 

Metaverse platform Ready Player Me (named after the 2011 VR sci-fi bestseller Ready Player One), recently launched its generative AI avatar creator. And similar tools are popping up just everywhere. Another one is Magic Avatars, a service that creates realistic 3D avatars from a single photo. There's also Synthesia, the most advanced AI avatar video maker in the market right now, with more than 120 languages and accents available.  The NBA created new AI tech which allows fans to have their very own avatar replace a regular player in a game – and Microsoft recently introduced an avatar generator for MS teams. These avatars are the harbingers of Microsoft Mesh, the Microsoft metaverse that's not available yet. With their avatar, users are supposed to take part in XR meetings and work collaboratively, without having to turn on their cameras. Microsoft advertises that employees can appear in any form they choose and that feels most comfortable, which is intended to promote diversity and inclusion. 

Inclusive avatars

Speaking of which, avatars are also used as sign language interpreters now. Israeli startup CODA aims to make video watching a lot easier for the deaf and hearing-impaired community. To this end, the company enlists AI-driven avatars able to translate spoken language into sign language almost instantaneously.  That's next level because up until recently, similar companies like signer.ai (India) or Signapse (UK) only offered to translate written text into sign language.

What's next?

In a nutshell, there are all kinds of (more or less) sophisticated avatars for all kinds of purposes now, but one big challenge remains: Creating an avatar / 3D character / virtual agent (call it what you like) which is portable, sustainable, versatile – and can be used in multiple environments. A solution like this would be very appealing to users facing a complex, rapidly growing digital/immersive space. Hopefully, SERMAS can make a positive contribution here.

In the meantime, let's all enjoy playing a little with 3D authoring tools, generative AI and immersive RPG worlds.

Funded by the european union
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