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Avatar – Part 3: Future of the avatar

Excitement continues to build for the theater release of James Cameron’s upcoming epic, “Avatar,” on December 18th. The film is a 3D science-fiction action movie starring Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who becomes reborn as an alien species – his “Avatar.”

While it’s uncertain exactly how the movie intends to use it, Cameron’s use of the word “avatar” is probably different than the one we encounter in our industry and the hype surrounding the film inspired us to delve into the word itself. This three part blog series will explore the use of the word avatar as we know it, the origins of the word and the varying cases in which the word “avatar” has been applied.

The notion of the avatar has come a long way from the historical, religious sense to how we use them today in our online communications. The story of avatars and virtual worlds is far from over as technology and popularity of using an avatar continues to grow. The question we’re asking today is where does our concept of avatar go from here?

Avatar technology continues to grow in both 2D and 3D forms. Our avatars will share our expressions and represent us in ways that will cross the boundaries of real life and static, graphical representations. Avatar portability allows us to use the same graphical representation across multiple platforms, bringing our “other self” along to different destinations.

Even then, the use or definition of the avatar may not stop at the computer. CNN introduced (semi) practical holograms into the mainstream back in 2008. Recently, futurist Ray Kurzweil delivered the keynote speech at Germany’s Trendforum conference via holographic projection. How practical is this? Kurzweil himself predicts that by 2020 we will regularly interact in virtual environments and even be able to touch each other virtually.

On the future of technology in the virtual world space,Tim Leberecht explained it well in his article “Going human with Shy-Tech “Their common thread: technology in disguise, with front ends that are becoming touchable, intuitive, and human-centric. Mueller coined the term “Shytech” for this phenomenon: technology that can afford to be nonintrusive because it is fully immersive.”

Hologram avatars would still keep avatars in an intangible position, but consider James Cameron’s idea of an avatar. In “Avatar,” a human inhabits a physical body and controls it from a remote location. Earlier this year Honda demonstrated a brain-machine that could control a robot by thoughts alone. Much like the hologram, it is possible that one day we could meet up and interact as our robot avatars.

These are wild concepts and lead to some interesting discussion about what an avatar is and could be. The ideas we’ve discussed in this post do not cling to our stated definition of what an avatar is but it’s likely that the definition can grow just as much as the possibilities of avatars do.

Read More: Avatar – Part 1: Defining the modern avatar and Avatar – Part 2: Origins of the word

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