Facebook Reality Labs Gives Us a Preview of What Your Avatar Could Look Like in the Future

Have you ever wondered what your virtual-world avatar could look like, 10 to 20 years from now?

A recently published article in WIRED covers the work of Facebook Reality Labs, which is developing stunningly lifelike virtual reality avatars, called codec avatars, which can recreate the full gamut of facial expressions:

Examples of Facebook Reality Labs’ Codec Avatars

For years now, people have been interacting in virtual reality via avatars, computer-generated characters that represent us. Because VR headsets and hand controllers are trackable, our real-life head and hand movements carry into those virtual conversations, the unconscious mannerisms adding crucial texture. Yet even as our virtual interactions have become more naturalistic, technical constraints have forced them to remain visually simple. Social VR apps like Rec Room and AltspaceVR abstract us into caricatures, with expressions that rarely (if ever) map to what we’re really doing with our faces. Facebook’s Spaces is able to generate a reasonable cartoon approximation of you from your social media photos but depends on buttons and thumb-sticks to trigger certain expressions. Even a more technically demanding platform like High Fidelity, which allows you to import a scanned 3D model of yourself, is a long way from being able to make an avatar feel like you.

That’s why I’m here in Pittsburgh on a ridiculously cold, early March morning inside a building very few outsiders have ever stepped foot in. Yaser Sheik and his team are finally ready to let me in on what they’ve been working on since they first rented a tiny office in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood. (They’ve since moved to a larger space on the Carnegie Mellon campus, with plans to expand again in the next year or two.) Codec Avatars, as Facebook Reality Labs calls them, are the result of a process that uses machine learning to collect, learn, and re-create human social expression. They’re also nowhere near being ready for the public. At best, they’re years away—if they end up being something that Facebook deploys at all. But the FRL team is ready to get this conversation started. “It’ll be big if we can get this finished,” Sheik says with the not-at-all contained smile of a man who has no doubts they’ll get it finished. “We want to get it out. We want to talk about it.”

The results (which you can see more of in the photos and videos in the WIRED article) are impressive, but they require a huge amount of data capture beforehand: 180 gigabytes of data every second! So don’t expect this to be coming out anytime soon. But it is a fascinating glimpse of the future.

Would you want your avatar in a virtual world to look exactly like you, and have their face move exactly like your face, with all your unique expressions? Some people would find this creepy. Others would embrace it. Many people would probably prefer to have an avatar who looks nothing like their real-life selves. What do you think of Facebook’s research? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks!

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Avatar Customization to Be the Theme of a Special Valentine’s Day Sansar Product Meetup This Thursday

This Thursday, which also happens to be Valentine’s Day, there will be a special Product Meetup focusing on avatar customization. Lacie Sansar (who appears to be the acting community manager for Sansar while Linden Lab is searching to fill the position after Eliot left) has posted the following message to the announcements channel on the official Sansar Discord:

I’m *extremely* excited to announce our *Special Edition* of our Product Meetup this upcoming Thursday.

We will focus on discussing the highly requested upcoming features for even **more** Avatar Customization & we want to hear your feedback.

Without further ado…*lets get customizable* this **Thursday, February 14th** at **11AM PST**

See you there, Sansarians. 😉

https://events.sansar.com/events/Lacie-Sansar/product-meetup—special-edition—lets-get-customizable/bf6f3ac0

We’re already got endless customization of such things as hair, clothing, and accessories, but I am still really happy to see this announcement because I and others have been badgering Linden Lab for months now to address several issues related to customization for the default human avatars:

  • more face sliders and the addition of body sliders (height, weight, etc.)
  • customized skins which can be bought and sold on the Sansar Store

So if, like me, you are keenly interested in these sorts of topics, we get an opportunity to tell Linden Lab what we want to see!

A Second Update: Leaving My Second Life Avatars to Other People Via My Will

Angel Michaela 3 30 Mar 2018
Prayerful Vigil: one of my avatars who needs a good home after I am gone

This week, I have been scheduling in-world meetings with various people in Second Life who had expressed an interest in inheriting one of my SL avatars. (If you want more background on why I am doing this, you can read all about it herehere, here and here.)

One thing that I have discovered, is that most people are not really that interested in taking over someone else’s avatar after the original owner has passed away. The idea probably creeps some people out. It might also be that people are shying away from having to provide a real-life name and means of contact to me and my lawyer (when I select one to draw up my last will and testament).

I do want to make it clear that I will no longer be publishing who gets what avatar on this blog. SaveMe Oh, who evidently marches to the beat of her own drummer, has decided to publish my email to her on her own blog, telling her that she can inherit my drag queen/clown avatar, Velcro Zipper, even though I specifically asked her not to. So be it. She has a habit of posting transcripts of other people’s conversations with her to her blog, so I probably should not be surprised. But she still gets one of my avatars to add to her merry band of artistic warriors and shit disturbers. Maybe the operators of the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) sims might want to add “Velcro Zipper” to their ban lists as a precaution, even though she will not be getting Velcro for many, many years!

But from here on in, it’s nobody’s business who gets which of my avatars in my will. So, if that was a consideration that was originally holding you back from offering to take one, please be reassured. I am not SaveMe Oh, and I will not publish transcripts of our conversations, or our emails/IMs, without your explicit permission!

Here’s my list of avatars. Many are still looking for good homes. I’m actually somewhat surprised that nobody has asked about my celebrity look-alike avatars like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, or Cher:

If you are interested in inheriting one of these Second Life avatars, please contact me via email at ryanschultz [at] Gmail [dot] com (or via the Contact page on this blog). You can also approach me and talk to me in-world in Second Life, Sansar or another virtual world, or talk to me on one of the many community forums or Discord channels for the various virtual worlds of which I am a part (including my own Discord).

This has been a very interesting experience for me! I have already had some fascinating in-depth conversations with people this week, and I look forward to many more in the coming weeks and months! As I have said before, I do plan on living a long and healthy life, and playing Second Life well into my 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, but you never know what can happen, and it always pays to be prepared for any eventuality. And, as I have said before, It would give me great pleasure to know that the avatars I lovingly created and outfitted will live on after my death. It’s a kind of digital immortality, and I honestly don’t think that it’s creepy at all.

Have a plan in place so your friends in virtual worlds will know what happened to you if you suddenly disappear off the grid! And think about what you want done with your digital assets if you should die. How will you choose to have things wrapped up?

An Update: Leaving My Second Life Avatars to Other People Via My Will (and Why Cancer Is Still Part of My Life)

By the way, even though my recent cancer scare is over, I am still actively drawing up my list of acquaintances, friends and family to whom I will leave all my Second Life avatars in my will.

(If you have already responded, thank you! And I will be in touch with you before the end of October. So far I have had about a dozen people send me messages, by email or in-world.)

Here’s the alphabetical list for you to peruse. The following four avatars are already spoken for:

  • Nada Nix (my goth girl avatar) I have decided to leave to Jenn (a.k.a. Xiola Linden), the Community Manager for Second Life at Linden Lab.
  • Rose Queen (my Caledon/steampunk/Victorian older woman avatar) is going to Blush Bravin of the Second Life brand Blushed (a.k.a Debi Baskerville in SL and Sansar).
  • Scarborough Fair (my medieval roleplay avatar) I am leaving to Solas NaGealai, co-owner of Silvan Moon Designs in Second Life.
  • Vanity Fair (my fashionista avatar) I have decided to leave to Strawberry Singh. I know that she will take good care of her!

 

And, if you are hesitating because you don’t really know me, except through this blog, please don’t. I still need to find homes for most of these avatars before I shuffle off this mortal coil! Don’t get me wrong—I plan on living a long and healthy life, and reaching a ripe old age, but you never know what can happen! And I would hate to think that all my creative work will go into the pixel bin….

All I ask is that we have at least one good, long, in-depth conversation (via phone, chat, or IM). I simply want to know who you are (and what you plan to do with my avatar) before I leave you one of these avatars, on which I have spent a great deal of time, energy, and (in some cases) money.

And, if you don’t want me to publicize your name, I can certainly honour that request too; just let me know in advance. I’d much rather leave these lovingly-created and outfitted avatars to people who actually enjoy and appreciate Second Life, as opposed to people who never use SL. And I know from my blog statistics that I do get a lot of visitors from SL. Thank you for your consideration. Here’s my contact page.


By the way, cancer is still very much a part of my life. My best friend in real life recently underwent surgery for serious prostate cancer, and he has learned that this cancer has spread and that he will soon have to undergo testosterone suppression therapy and radiation treatment. I feel afraid, angry and sad, and I also feel guilty that I’m OK and he’s not. He was back in the hospital for a  couple of days due to blood clots in both his lungs after his surgery, but he is at home resting and recovering now. Please keep my friend John in your thoughts and prayers.

Relay in Life for Second Life now has a very special meaning for me. Please consider supporting this annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. You can also consider making a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society. Thank you!

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