November 30, 2003

Joining Zoesis

by Andrew Stern · , 12:01 am

I liked the Oz Project so much, I joined the company. Tomorrow’s my first day at Zoesis, a startup company in the Boston area developing AI-based interactive character and interactive drama technology. (This helps explain my recent move to Boston, in case you were wondering.)

The company was founded about 5 years ago by a team of four Carnegie Mellon researchers — computer science professor Joseph Bates and three then-newly-graduated c.s. PhD’s Bryan Loyall, Scott Reilly and Peter Weyrauch. Since that time they and their team have built several interactive character and story prototypes, some of which are publicly playable and deployed commercially, others informally demoed at conferences. A year ago they received a grant to pursue R&D to integrate natural language capability into their technology. I’ll be joining as a fellow “member of the technical and creative staff,” participating in this effort.

I feel fortunate and excited to be working with these guys, not just because my interests overlap almost completely with theirs, but also because they’re really nice people. Actually they’re a pretty close-knit group, working together for about 15 years now! I first met Bryan at the 1997 Socially Intelligent Agents AAAI symposium at MIT, where Adam Frank and I were giving one of our first academic presentations of Dogz and Catz. (That was also where I first met Michael, who became the last (and solo) member of the Oz Project, as Joe et al. left CMU to form Zoesis shortly after Michael began as a grad student there; Michael and I eventually collaborated on Facade, starting in 2000.) As far back as 1995 I had read some of the early Oz Project papers, which at the time helped point me in the right direction as I was designing and implementing the Petz AI behavior system. At subsequent AAAI symposia I met Joe, Scott and Peter. Now, getting the chance to work with them and the other great people they’ve brought into the team, is a really special opportunity.

I’m also happy to be working again in an office environment for the first time in three years. Although my commute time will increase from 15 seconds to 15 minutes (can’t complain), it’ll be great to be working again with people face-to-face on a daily basis. (Working at home is really nice, but I wouldn’t want to do it forever.) I have great memories of the comradery at PF.Magic, a (now defunct) San Francisco startup where I worked for over 7 years before I left to go self-funded on Facade.

Needless to say, Michael and I were hoping we’d have Facade finished before I started a new full-time job, but alas, though it’s pretty close now to completion (yay! phew!), Facade still needs several more months of polishing, sound recording and testing before we release it. I’ll be working nights and weekends to finish it, just as Michael has been since he started his new full-time job at Georgia Tech a year ago. It *will* get done, no doubt about that, but it’ll happen when it happens…