If Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson are right, here is what’s in store for you and your avatar very soon, probably within the next five years:
Without leaving your living room or office, you’ll sit at three-dimensional virtual meetings and classes with your colleagues’ avatars.
Your avatar will be programmed to make a better impression than you could ever manage.
While your avatar is taking notes, you can do something more important: sleep.
Sounds like future hype? May be not. In their new book, Infinite Reality psychologists Blascovich and Bailenson insist that 3-D conferences with avatars are nigh because consumer technology has caught up with the work going on in their virtual-reality laboratories in academia. They point to three developments in the past year: the Microsoft Kinect tracking system for the Xbox, the Nintendo 3DS gaming device, and the triumph on “Jeopardy!” of IBM’s Watson computer.
“These three events have been paradigm-shifting for avatar conferences,” says Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. “Faster than most of us predicted, the technology is finally ready for the living room and the cubicle.”
“People don’t like video conferences today because it’s more like watching ‘Hollywood Squares’ than being in a meeting,” Blascovich says. “You want the feeling of sitting at the table and having a full view.”
An avatar based on your photograph and tracking your movements could give a fairly accurate rendering of you and your reactions. But why be accurate at all? Why let everyone know what you really think of them?
Now that computers like Watson have gotten so good at emulating humans, avatars could be programmed to go on autopilot during a class or meeting. In Infinite Reality, Blascovich and Bailenson imagine a slacker named Dave who sleeps in while his avatar attends an 8 am corporate meeting.
“Dressed impeccably in a digital Italian suit, the avatar was programmed to be a perfect participant,” they write. “It laughed at jokes (taking cues from voice inflection changes of the other avatars), nodded in all the right places, and dutifully recorded the details of the discussion.”
Now, if it could just clinch that sale. NYT