What Roles Will They Play?
24 July 2002
Ever imagine that there could be another you? Someone that looks
like you, acts like you, dresses like you, talks like you, walks
like you? Someone who does everything you do...except perhaps, breathe?
The idea of digital humans or virtual people has been around for
decades, but now the possibility is now coming to fruition. With
new hardware and added determination, computer graphics technology
is creating digital humans that are virtually indistinguishable
from the real thing. And the list of benefits is as long as it is
diverse. Film, video, the web and games are among the most primary
"Ours may be the last generation that can see a difference
between real and virtual things," explained the University
of Pennsylvania's Norman Badler. He explains, along with fellow
panelists, Athomas Goldberg (Improv Technologies Inc.), Evan Marc
Hirsch (Electronic Arts), Laurie McCulloch (Digital Animation Group)
and Nadia Magnenat-Thalmann (University of Geneva), that the idea
of digital humans is driven by both technology and the economy.
The sole challenge that we as a society face is realism. In order
for a digital human to appear/seem/feel real, he must be smart and
interactive. He must remind us of the people we know. He must speak
like we do and understand the intricacies of language.
Goldberg, who has been developing lifelike characters for years,
talked about his involvement with the Improv Project. The Project's
goal was "to enable lifelike, believable characters to be used
in the creation of new forms of digital storytelling and interactive
experience." As an early pioneer of virtual humans, Goldberg's
works have been displayed at SIGGRAPH since 1994.
While the idea itself is amazing, the future is wide open to dreaming
about preserving the (virtual) love of your life forever. The question
remains of is that a good thing? We as a community are for the first
time, being faced with the possibility of having to copyright our
Will there be a legal redress for misuse? Will anyone be able to
recreate ME? And who will bear responsibility for their (the digital
These questions sound as silly as they do serious. But the next
time you stare at your computer, be aware that someday soon, you
may confuse your monitor with a mirror. And you could be looking
your "pseudo-self" in the eye.