Avatars will soon be everywhere

August 25 2008 / by futuretalk / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Communication   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

By Dick Pelletier

Throw away the mouse and keyboard. New technologies are about to provide us with personal avatars – computerized images of our choice – connected to the Internet, and displayed on wall-size screens. Avatars will understand us, listen to our demands, and anticipate our needs.

Most people think interactive systems like these are a long ways off, but two trends are quickening the pace. Improved speech-recognition systems will soon enable people to converse with computers in normal-spoken English, and entrepreneurs are flooding to the Internet creating new business applications that take advantage of speech recognition.

IBM and Microsoft expect to soon eliminate all of the errors in today’s speech recognition software, and create systems that will mimic human speech perfectly without flaws. The MIT Project Oxygen new voice-machine interface can look you in the eye, let you ask questions in casual English, and answer them. Close your eyes and you think you’re talking with a human.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates claims that by 2012, voice-enabled “smart” systems will allow us to converse naturally and comfortably, directly to flat panel displays. On command, our personal avatar will appear on the display. She (or he) will help us shop, work, learn, and conduct business and social relationships on the Internet. Computers will disappear and become part of the display.

Amtrak, Wells Fargo, and Land’s End are taking advantage of these new systems. They plan to replace keypad-menu call centers with speech-recognition systems to save money and improve customer relations. General Motors OnStar and Lexus DVD Nav systems are adding more than 1 million new subscribers each year. Analysts believe most businesses will convert to automatic speech systems as the technology matures.

Financial experts predict we are entering a transition, similar to the PC revolution of the 80s, and the Internet rush of the 1990s. Today’s recession may hang around for a while, they say, but automatic speech systems could soon provide a huge boost for the economy.

Avatars will soon be appearing everywhere. In Japan, Yuki Terai thrills as a virtual rock star and is a national idol, Ananova gained notoriety reporting the weather, and AI expert Ray Kurzweil created Ramona, an alter-ego that hosts his web site and has performed live on stage.

We will soon be using avatars to help us buy and sell online, become better educated, receive medical help, and talk with distant friends. Real-life images on wall-size displays will make us feel like we are in the same room with the person we’re talking with.

We can design avatars to resemble anyone. My choices: Meg Ryan as she appeared in “Sleepless in Seattle”, and Ted Turner (my hero). How about you – what would your choices be?

Speech-recognition technologies are inching us closer to our “magical” future, discussed in previous articles: driverless cars scurrying us around, scramjets whisking us to anywhere on earth in an hour, gene therapies growing our body into better health, and personal robots making life more enjoyable. Comments welcome.

When will you have an affordable wall-size display in your home?

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Comment Thread (5 Responses)

  1. While speech recognition will be useful in many situations, I don’t see how these “avatars” will be more useful than that annoying talking paperclip “Clippy” in Microsoft Office. This strange idea that computers have to have human faces is no different from idea that cars should have some sort of a mechanical horse look-alike in front of them.

    Posted by: johnfrink   August 25, 2008
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  2. My Tivo records programs that it thinks I will enjoy, because it observes everything I watch, did I watch the whole program or just parts; did I delete the program before watching; etc.

    When Tivo makes an error and records something that I hate, I have the option of taking the several steps to place one, two, or three thumbs down on the program.

    How much easier it would be to converse with Tivo via an avatar. I could ask, why did you record such a dumb program? I think the avatar would be a great help to me in this situation.

    Posted by: futuretalk   August 25, 2008
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  3. Dick,

    In a scenario that you are describing it is the “conversation” part that’s tricky, because that involves not only speech recognition, but also understanding of natural language. Visual part of it, displaying a face that is, was possible for many years now.

    Again, my point is that while enabling computers to speak can be very useful in many situations, making them also display a human head does not really serve any purpose and is kinda corny and reminiscent of Microsoft Bob.

    Posted by: johnfrink   August 25, 2008
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  4. Johnfrink you could be right; but I would love to have my Tivo interface resemble Meg Ryan as she appeared in Sleepless in Seattle. Would I pay more for this feature? I think I would.

    Posted by: futuretalk   August 25, 2008
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  5. I think in many situations the Avatars you describe would be very useful, particularly if they can interpret our expressions and body language and react with natural body language.Home Education would be a greatly improved. Voice recognition has gotten better in the last few years, defying my own expectations.

    The problem with “clippy” was that he didn’t work very well. He couldn’t interpret our actions very well so he became annoying. If he had been more “intelligent” he might have been useful, even enjoyable. The computer from Red Dwarf comes to mind. He was helpful.

    I, for one, have enough problems with tendonitis that I would welcome anything that minimizes my typing and mouse usage.

    Posted by: Mielle Sullivan   August 26, 2008
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