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Soon, you can be in two places at same time

Within 5 Yrs, Your 3D Avatar Will Interact With Others In Virtual Environment As You Sit At Home

John Tierney 

    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 3D virtual meetings and classes, looking around the table or the lecture hall at your colleagues’ avatars. 

• Your avatar will be programmed to make a better impression than you could ever manage. 

• While your avatar sits there at the conference table gazing alertly and taking notes, you can do something more important: sleep. 
    Does this sound like future hype? In their new book, “Infinite Reality”, Blascovich and Bailenson insist that 3D conferences with avatars are nigh because consumer technology has suddenly caught up with work going on in virtual-reality laboratories in academia. 
    These psychologists 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 events have been paradigm-shifting for avatar conferences,” says Bailenson, the founding director of Stanford’s Human Interaction Lab. 
    “Virtual reality scientists have been waiting for these events for decades – and faster than most of us predicted. The technology is finally ready for the living room and cubicle.” 
    The Kinect tracking device shows that it’s now practical for you to control your avatar simply by moving around the room – no more need for special suits or elaborate sensors in a lab. Nor do you have to wear special glasses to see in 3D, thanks to the “autostereo” display on the Nintendo 3DS, which beams a 3D image to the naked eye. 
    With these technologies – and tricks that have already been done in labs – you can sit at a virtual conference table and exchange glances with the avatars of other participants. Unlike the 2D avatars that are already convening on “Second Life”, your avatar would appear to be 3D, and you’d feel immersed in the scene as you looked around at other participants from your avatar’s eyes . 
    The avatars would be computer-generated, and in that sense they’d be less photo-realistic than the images from webcams that are already available on phone calls and teleconferences through services like Skype. But looking at webcam images of talking heads isn’t as satisfying as sitting around with 3D avatars, says Blascovich, the director of the Research Center for Virtual Environments at the University of California, Santa Barbara. 
    By building an avatar based on your photo and tracking your movements, a computer could give a fairly accurate rendering of you and of your reactions. But why let everyone know what you really think of them? In a virtual classroom, for instance, you might want to programme your avatar to appear to sit up straight and look intently at the professor – even as you slouched or looked around the room. NYT NEWS SERVICE


DOUBLE TAKE: An image of avatars in a business meeting. New technology will allow you to programme how you want your avatar to behave