The Business & Social Network
To many people, today’s avatars represent elaborate animations. Recently, however, much fanfare has been made about new technologies enabling animated avatars to mimic a wide range of users’ facial expressions. If you smile, your avatar smiles with you. If you frown, your avatar frowns. While this development may translate into greater realism, is this realism “real” enough? If the objective is to make an avatar truly “real”, why not have it actually be real?
Certainly there exists specific segments of the Virtual world population for whom
animated avatars are preferred. These groups might include children under 10; teenaged gamers; and non-gaming adults in virtual worlds like Second life. In each of these examples, customization, fantasy, and/or anonymity take precedence over true realism.
There are, however, a number of possible virtual world environments where users are likely to be interested in seeing avatars that are as realistic as possible. In this regard, wouldn’t a live streaming video avatar of an actual person be a viable alternative to the currently available animations? This technology would allow for real time, face-to-face meetings in virtual worlds. People could actually see each other.
One example of a real need for this technology is in the area of virtual world dating. As Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska and Andrew Ross said in their paper entitled "Matchmaking Through Avatars: Social Aspects of Online Dating", "Once you have experienced the virtual delights of avatar dating in an online venue, taking that last fateful step and going for a real, physical, face-to-face meeting with your avatar date can only be a let-down."
Talk about a blind date! How could you even be certain of the gender of the animated avatar you were dating, let alone know what that person actually looks like in the real world?
Another good example of the value of realistic avatars would be virtual world job interviews. Recently, at a state government job fair in Second life, an applicant "came to the job fair as a” tiny cat with a red bow tie on." How can anyone really know for sure whom they are actually talking to? For all you know, you could be interviewing some kid’s Dad!
How about social networking? Imagine virtually attending your 10th high school reunion, and being able to see your fellow classmates face-to-face (how did that cute girl/guy who used to sit next to you turn out?) Instead of experiencing an animated depiction fixing you with a facsimile smile, you could see your classmates actually laughing. The experience using a live streaming video avatar would be totally different, and potentially a lot more satisfying.
Distance learning and virtual campuses are other areas with enormous potential. Teachers and students could see each others' actual faces in the virtual world, thereby facilitating a much richer and personally interactive learning experience.
Imagine playing online poker with a table full of animated avatars. There is no way to read your opponents' "tells" that you would otherwise pick up in a face-to-face situation. Given that the human face is capable of making over 50,000 different individual expressions, real time avatars clearly provide the advantage in such a nuanced environment. Otherwise, everyone will have their avatars set to “poker face”. So much for nuance.
Lastly, imagine engaging in sensitive and/or high stakes business negotiations with “a tiny cat wearing a red bow tie…” Enough said.
Ultimately, the list of situations where it would be preferable to have real time avatars is almost limitless. So the question becomes, when can we expect to see live video avatars? The answer is… now. A company called Integrated Virtual Networks (IVN) has been developing patented live video avatar software called Silhouette.
With Silhouette, each user in a virtual world is able to see and be seen as a live streaming video avatar at real time frame rates, along with synchronized audio. Silhouette works with a single high-speed web camera to extract a user's video image from the user's actual environment, without the need for a monochromatic (e.g. blue or green screen) background. Silhouette could be used for all those virtual world situations where “real” actually needs to be real..
You can see the direction IVN is going with its live video avatar software by looking at its rough in-house "proof of concept" video which was done completely in-world:
As indicated in the beginning of this post, live video avatars will not be for everyone, but once the technology is fully developed, it could bring a needed dose of reality to virtual worlds.
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The author Craig McAllister is affiliated with Integrated Virtual Networks (IVN) in Los Angeles, CA.
This is indeed a very interesting concept. If the Avatar is indeed a close resemblance it would be amazing, if however the Avatar makes you appear worse than you in fact are, as this discussion adequately points out it isn't for all and especially the vain, unless of course it is a streamed image of self enhanced to be flawless Avatar. I know of friends where if they heard the voice of the Avatar sometimes that alone was a "turn off" especially if it was a gender they didn't expect :) This to me is fascinating, I know that soon the technology will be such that the avatar will be yourself but flawless so we will never truly know who we meet as Avatars and real life meetings will always be preferred. I wrote a post that I felt was very true in understanding each other as Avatars. Eyes are like windows to the soul, in Real Life we can see a persons eyes and ascertain what is implied, virtually however, we can only rely on the words spoken, sometimes its hard to ascertain whats true.
Thank you for posting this most interesting Discussion
There is an interesting discussion about this topic,
in the LinkedIn group VirtualWorlds you can find the discussion