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The Age of Avatars

by Philip Rosedale Cofounder + CEO

Most of us have a regular sync with a client or a co-worker from a different office. Most of us, given the option, would probably choose to have that meeting as an audio call rather than a video call.

Technically speaking, video calls should be the obvious choice over audio calls. But their very “improvements” actually make them much worse. Video calls are supposed to make you feel like you’re in the same room with someone who’s halfway around the world. They work to the opposite effect: the visuals reinforce that you’re in different places. You can look at each other but you can’t make eye contact. Instead of restoring human connection, this advanced technology leaves us feeling disengaged. It’s no wonder people still default to audio calls.

But maybe there’s a third option. Instead of showing everyone our bedrooms, bad lighting and pajamas, what if we could present as a better everyday version of ourselves? 

What if we could attend meetings as an avatar?

Computers can now understand where our faces are and what expressions we are making. Given these recent breakthroughs in conveying virtual presence — the sense that we’re really there — we foresee a shift in people presenting as realistic 3D avatars in cases where we’d formerly (reluctantly) use video.

We’re finally making real eye contact 

Trying to make eye contact in video calls has always been awkward at best. If you look directly into the camera, you can’t see your friend. If you look at the screen, you’ll appear to be looking below your friend’s line of sight. 

Apple recently released a feature for the iPhone XS that fixes this experience by “faking” eye contact. Called “FaceTime Attention Correction,” the feature manipulates the position of your eyes so it appears you’re looking directly at your friend. 

If the thought of having your eyes digitally manipulated makes you uncomfortable, technology that enables real eye contact is already available for 3D avatars. The latest smartphones (like the iPhone X and Samsung S4) can detect where your eyes are looking and then applies that eye tracking to your avatar. If you use an avatar to call someone, you can see them actually looking into your eyes. This is a big difference! If you have an iPhone X, click on the Animoji. There’s even a program that works like Animoji for conference calls


Source: Avatar SDK

Look like a better everyday version of you

Zoom offers to retouch your appearance, smoothing your skin and blurring out the background. It’s a sure sign video providers are starting to realize people feel self-conscious about bad lighting, too-casual clothing or bags under their eyes. 

There are a number of apps and services that take “touching up” a step further, enabling you to easily create photo-realistic, highly-customizable avatars. You can take on your best form — and lead meetings more confidently

A new language: live emojis

In the same way that we now use emojis in text messaging, we’ll use animations to communicate with a new visual language as avatars. We might jump up and down when we wrap a project or sprout devil horns when we prank a coworker.  Not only will this be fun VR to develop, it will also give us additional bandwidth for communication. 

Improving the real you 

Numerous studies have shown that using an avatar actually causes you to improve your physical self in areas like health, fitness and empathy and sensitivity for minority identities — which may affect  even longer-term qualities like your confidence and career choices. In a nutshell, what research shows is that your avatar is a safe space for experimentation. The degree of freedom and plasticity you inhibit in the virtual world encourages you to make positive changes to your own body and environment.   

Let body language do the talking

When we’re on a video call, there’s often a slight delay between when your coworker waving to the camera and the wave we see on screen. But machine learning can now extract facial expressions and body positions from video and joins perfectly together. This is the same tech that powers Animojis. The quality is outstanding. So this means that a machine can watch a video of you speaking and then ‘pose’ your avatar to precisely mime how you move your body and face.  

Put avatars to work

There are potentially unlimited use cases for avatars. We can go to school, shop or see a doctor. But a big portion of our days are spent at work, and a fair portion of that time is spent in meetings. Avatar technology is a huge step up over video calls. In VR, you can be anything, and while most of us will opt to look like our physical selves, we may also use it to transform our identities completely — ushering in a new era of “blind” job interviews, where the interviewer can’t see sex, color or class. We’ve already built the tools. Let’s put avatars to work. 

Mobile app "Virtual You: 3D Avatar Creator" now available

Exciting news! We’ve just launched a new app on the Apple and Google Play stores, "Virtual You: 3D Avatar Creator," developed with the help of our friends at Wolf3D. Create and personalize a 3D avatar that looks like you in less than five minutes! Read more in our blog or check out the official press release.

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Published by Philip Rosedale September 16, 2019

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