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3-D Avatars Could Put You in Two Places at Once

April 15, 2011 | Howard Lichtman
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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:

1) Without leaving your living room or office, you'll sit at three-dimensional virtual meetings and classes, looking around the table or the lecture hall at your colleagues' avatars.

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

3) 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? Your first instinct may be to classify it with the old predictions -- see World's Fair, 1964 -- that there would soon be a picturephone in every kitchen. It took half a century for video phone calls to become affordable and usable. But in their new book, Infinite Reality Dr. Blascovich and Dr. Bailenson insist that 3-D conferences with avatars are nigh because consumer technology has suddenly caught up with the work going on in their 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 I.B.M.'s Watson computer.

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