When it comes to depicting himself on social media, who is really portrayed as has always been a bit caricatured. That thought has always made it a bit interesting to examine how a company like Facebook addresses avatar design for services like your VR avatar system.
The Oculus Avatars have undergone a number of transformations and today they are pushing an update that creates more robust facial expressions that are more human-like than the rigid renderings shown by previous iterations. The new Sim-like “Expressive Avatars” are arguably the company’s most unsettling to date, but they’re also the most ambitious.
The company calls the update, the “culmination of user feedback and years of research and innovations in machine learning, engineering and design. “
This concept of the strange valley is often repeated in which things reach a certain point of realism, but then are deeply disturbing because the representation is close but not quite. That’s more than a little obvious here. Initially, Oculus opted to veer broad when it came time to structure its avatar system based on how people actually look, but with its latest Expressive Avatars update, things seem to be moving in a different direction.
In a blog post, the company appeared to acknowledge the risks of betting on realism, while emphasizing that the trade-offs were worth it. They say they found that people are simply more willing to interact with avatars when they look and behave more like human beings:
In 2016, we made a conscious decision to avoid showing what we didn’t know in order to better represent what we knew with certainty. Since then, we’ve learned a lot, not just about how our hardware canhelpwe simulate credible behaviors with greater confidence, but also on how we can use machine learning and the above well understood ones to translate subtle signals into a great social presence.
The new avatars feature more realistic eye and mouth movements, a small update that Facebook maintains was an intense challenge to achieve.
This could be a bit dangerous to choose. After all, there is an ideal that the company can achieve, to recreate a perfect digital persona. They have already adapted to the design of deeply human-like avatar systems; The limits here are obviously both the low power of current consumer systems and the inability of platforms to infer much in terms of interaction and movement, other than what the sensors accurately capture.
Facebook’s new Avatar system goes live today on Oculus PC and mobile platforms.