Dubai: Think of Albert Einstein and one thing that comes to mind immediately — apart from his iconic Theory of Relativity — is his fuzzy hair. But it wasn’t always shabby and messy for the genius. In fact, Einstein looked quite dapper and well-groomed during his early years at a university in Zurich, Switzerland. And this 'young' Einstein will come ‘alive’ — albeit digitally — at the Swiss Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai, which opens on October 1.
Gulf News recently had a sneak peek at ‘Digital Einstein’ during a science fair at his alma mater in Switzerland — ETH Zürich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule or Swiss Federal Institute of Technology).
A couple of children were seated on an armchair and opposite them was an avatar of the Nobel laureate, modelled on how he looked during his time at the Swiss public research university. Bringing the Digital Einstein to life and making him ‘see’, ‘hear’ and ‘interact’ with the viewers is a complex algorithmic system developed by the company Animatico — a spin-off of ETH Zurich.
“Our idea was to bring a 3D animated figure showing a younger Einstein (conspicuously sporting a chic hairstyle) who can interact with young people and share his time in Zurich. We have used a complex algorithm, including dynamic visualisation, speech processing and visual recognition to make it more interactive,” Riccardo Roveri, co-founder of Animatico, told Gulf News, adding: “You can ask him (Digital Einstein) any question about his life, research and academic work.”
Chat with a Nobel laureate
At Expo 2020 Dubai, those who would like to have a ‘chat’ with the digital avatar of the Nobel laureate will be seated on a comfortable armchair, equipped with latest technology — including a camera that can scan the movements and reactions of the viewer. A dynamic microphone is also used to filter out the voice from the ambient noise, while a special software converts the audio into text for Digital Einstein to analyse and generate a suitable response — all in real time.
Roveri, however, said Digital Einstein is still a work-in-progress. Developers are continually improving the platform to deliver a completely free-form conversation and trying to add more languages to the repertoire, including Arabic.
A 'humorous reply'
ETH professor Markus Gross said Digital Einstein can “answer a wide variety of questions and sometimes reply with a challenging counter-question or a humorous remark. A younger Einstein was deliberately chosen to match his time in Zurich”. ETH Zurich said bringing Einstein to digital life was a tribute to their most famous alumnus and to celebrate one hundred years since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Insatiable thirst for knowledge
According to ETH, what is very interesting to learn from the young Einstein is how described himself as a “vagabond and a loner” with an insatiable enthusiasm for the physical theories and problems of his time.
Einstein entered ETH, which was then known as the Zurich Polytechnic, in October 1896. He was only 17 then and was one of the youngest students there. He studied in Zurich for four years, focusing on Physics and Mathematics, but also took courses in Literature and History.
“Even at a very young age, Einstein had a profound thirst for knowledge. He wanted to get to the bottom of things that were not understood at the time and he really challenged the existing physical paradigms,” noted Hans Rudolf Ott, professor emeritus of Physics at ETH.
Visitors at the Swiss Pavilion in Expo 2020 Dubai will have a chance to interact with the 'young' Einstein. There may not be enough time to learn about the general Theory of Relativity or how space and time are inextricably connected, but the idea of interacting and bantering with a genius and cultural icon will definitely be worth it. One can also pick a thing or two of his wit and light-hearted humour, while marvelling at his digital ‘hairstyle’!