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Monday, October 4, 2010

5 Minutes with Avatar Reality's "AI Guy", Mark Boon

--Jasmine Spearing, Marketing Associate

“I think, therefore, I Am.” This phrase holds special meaning for Avatar Reality’s resident Artifical Intelligence Software Engineer, Mark Boon. Mark has an impressive title, and an even more impressive resume, but around here he is just known as “the AI Guy.”

Mark has been working for Avatar Reality for about a year and a half, creating “Iams”, Avatar Reality’s answer to the “bot”, or AI avatar. Not only does he experiment with and create Iams for Avatar, he is creating a framework for City devs to use Iams in their Cities for multiple purposes, from games, to scavenger hunts, to guides, to shop keepers, more easily than ever before.

“Apart from working on some cool new AIs, my mission is to make it as easy as possible for others to make their own AI come alive in Blue Mars,” he said. Basically, Mark does the hard part, setting up the system for the Iams, and connecting them to the Blue Mars platform.

All a developer needs to do is download the AI tools in the Blue Mars SDK, insert the Iams into their Cities, and program them to an infinite number of uses, using the Java programming language, or simply modify one of the available example bots by only changing some XML code.

“I have no preconception of what devs should or shouldn't do with Iams. I just want them to try it and discover what they can do with the Blue Mars AI. I expect their ideas will surprise and amaze me and go beyond things I can think of now,” said Mark.

Mark is originally from The Netherlands, but has spent many years working and living in Japan, France, and Brazil, and is now settled in Hawaii. He has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Amsterdam, and also received a Masters in AI and Robotics.

As a teenager, he developed an interest in the ancient Chinese/Japanese game of Go (learn about Go here:

When he became interested in computers, he decided to combine his two hobbies. “I thought to myself "why not make a computer play that game?". Fortunately, I didn't know that it was nearly impossible, considered to be one of the hardest AI problems that existed. So I just did it, while I learned how to program,” said Mark.

Mark developed a computer program called Goliath, which plays Go on computers. “Although it was a long time ago, the Go playing program was quite an achievement and defined my career and reputation in the A.I. world, not to mention it sold quite a few copies in Japan,” he said.

Years later, Mark released parts of his Goliath program in an open source project to help newcomers get started with programming Go. This was called the TesujiGoFramework. Learn more about Goliath, and how you can program computers to play Go here:

When Mark isn’t playing around with mind-bending algorithms, he likes to spend time with his family, and enjoys travelling.

“I have been in so many different places around the world that it's hard to pick a favourite. Each place has its own unique character. Among my favourite cities would be Paris, Buenos Aires and Singapore. The best sceneries would be The Grand Canyon, Foz Iguacu Falls (forget Niagara) and the Amazon river,” he said.

Mark names Blade Runner as his favourite movie, and “The Magus” by John Fowles as his favourite book.

He is also a big football (soccer) fan, and truly enjoys his work. “I'm not sure I want people to know how much fun my job is. They might get ideas...,” he said.

Drop by the Welcome Area almost any time to meet Mark and his bots, or come to TGIF every Friday at 6pm PDT to dance with the Blue Mars Iams.

Learn more about Blue Mars Iams, or download the AI tools at

1 comment:

  1. I was at Niagara falls (New York) in August before college started, and it is the most magnificent natural wonders that you could possibly ever imagine. I love the beauty, and the scenery of the place. You can literally feel the mist from the falls. There are no words to describe the amazing scenery there.


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