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  Reports from SIGGRAPH 2001

Digital Humans:
What Roles Will They Play?

Erin Callihan
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 uses.

"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 own selves.

Will there be a legal redress for misuse? Will anyone be able to recreate ME? And who will bear responsibility for their (the digital humans) actions?

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.


Official SIGGRAPH 2002 Panels Descriptions


The annual conference is a chance to see friends you might only see at SIGGRAPH.


SIGGRAPH is the name of the show. ACM SIGGRAPH is the name of the organization.

Photos from SIGGRAPH 2002


This page is maintained by
Jan Hardenbergh
All photos you see in the 2002 reports are due to a generous loan of Cybershot digital cameras from SONY