Avatar Technology What is it? What are some of the prototypes? What can it do for us? What is the Future?
Originally the term avatar came from Hindu mythology and is the name for the temporary body a god inhabits while visiting Earth.
Avatar can also denote an embodiment or concrete manifestation of an abstract concept.
Avatar was first coined for use in describing users' visual embodiment in Cyberspace by Chip Morningstar in the early days of Habitat back in 1985.
Simply put, an avatar is You, or at least a facsimile of you. It is a graphical image of a user, representing yourself or someone else on a computer screen. Think of an avatar as your alter ego in the virtual world of cyberspace.
It is your body double in Cyberspace, your presence in the virtual communities growing inside two and three dimensional virtual worlds online.
Another kind of avatar is sometimes called an agent, a character, or a bot. This is a graphical personification of a computer or a process that is running on a computer.
Avatars, or virtual representations of living creatures, and their networked environments, represent the next major wave in online communications.
The avatars are usually visual representations of other software processes.
The Technological Reality
Unlike virtual reality technology, 2D and 3D virtual worlds require no special gloves, visors or hardware gear.
Avatar technology can offer its share of technological benefits. For example, it is less bandwidth-intensive than regular Internet applications.
However, there are some technology issues that must be addressed if avatars are to become commonplace.
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center: The Office Avatars Project
The goal of the Office Avatars project is to investigate the use of autonomous avatars in the workplace. In particular, it is interested in the role of an avatar as a personal representative which can provide useful information or other utility when the avatar's owner cannot be present.
Schlumberger's advanced technical group asked Planet 9 to prototype an AI guide front end to their Intranet search engine. To date, the project has received ten million dollars in internal funding.
Damer's company is working with a health insurance company in Europe. They want to have a virtual community for their customer base where people can come to their headquarters.
Damer says that,"They represent a brand new meeting of human communications. The virtual worlds are worlds where people come to socialize, where people come to build cities, work, and try utopian experiences; to build together and learn together."
Developed by David Colleen’s team at Planet 9, Genius is an avatar that greets and guides people in the fourteen Temps & Co. employment cafes in the Washington DC area. The character resides on their Intranet.
(Genius Grabs "Best Episodic Performer" award thanks to the Avatars 98 Judges.
World Movers uses an avatar as a guide in Softbanks online version of the World Movers trade show.
What Can it do for us?
Avatar technology is much better than Video Conferencing
It works well with Intranets that do not support Video Conferencing traffic
VRML avatars work with existing systems quite nicely
Avatars can prevent information bottlenecks due to personality clashes
What Can it do for us?
Avatars can express emotion through facial expressions and body posture, and can point at artifacts being discussed. In other words, people can bring their stuff, like files, to an avatar meeting.
Avatars can act as personal representatives to maintain a sense of presence and cohesiveness within workgroups when members are absent.
What Can it do for us?
Avatars are effective when co-worker information is very time critical (as in engineering development teams) or in which a sense of human presence is important, as in sales.
Can connect global offices and allow all employees to instantly connect to company data and archives.
The Future is Here
Networks will address the chaos of information overload by providing individuals with the ability to tailor how they communicate with others.
It will be done by gathering, managing, and organizing information so it will be more accessible and more useful to individuals than ever before.
Using avatars that will provide the filtering, tuning, adjudication, and other flow controls on information.
The Future is Here
Products from companies such as BlackSun Interactive, Integrated Data Systems, and Superscape coincide with a growing awareness of business uses for avatar technology.
It is expected that future generations of online users will enter bot (agent) or avatar (live people) inhabited spaces for help in the customer support sense, or in the library reference sense.
How are Other Governments Using the Technology?
European countries are employing avatar technology and future scenario work in management planning. Often, the facilitator is an expert interactive software designer, who has involved the use of games and simulations for role playing and brainstorming purposes.
Why are Other Governments Using the Technology?
Governments have no choice but to keep up with big business and the tools that are used to conduct transactions.
By employing avatar technology and incorporating it with scenarios, it can help us see the other side of issues: the proverbial ‘walking in another’s shoes.’
“ Avatars represent the real time embodiment of people in cyberspace and the fundamental avenue to meaningful community and a sense of place and memory. Online for the general population and for the business world. Avatars and inhabited cyberspaces are in their early phases in terms of knowledge management, but they are here to stay.”
-- Bruce Damer
Considerations and Clarifications
Avatar technology is a fairly new horizon and there is little consensus on what it will mean for society in the 21st century.
There is the added problem of very little information being accessible to those who want to learn more about the technology.
And problems with terminology.
There are some skeptics when it comes to this kind of technology, and that is partly due to the lack of information available. Others relate its use only to the way this technology is being used in chat rooms across the Internet: allowing people to hide behind an image, and even to change their character or sex. For some, this can be very good because it allows them to have more than one persona, and can therefore, allow innovative ideas to flow by freeing those who are cast in one corporate light and who are afraid to break the illusion.
Service in the 21st Century
Better use of time, and using technological fixes to improve the way we do business
Information explosion needs filtering
Commodification of the Internet
Saves money in customer service telephone infrastructure and long distance fees
Strong ties to Knowledge Management
I would like to thank the following people for contributing information, clarification, or examples of avatar technology:
Bruce Damer, President and CEO of DigitalSpace Corporation