But that doesn’t mean they can goof off. Soon Suzan may be joining them. Suzan is an avatar – a 30-something-looking, all-business female — who appeared Thursday at an augmented reality conference in Silicon Valley, courtesy of SAP Chief Scientist Keith Klemba.
So far, she speaks in a monotone and has only one facial expression (serious), although she occasionally moves her head and blinks her eyes. But she can keep track of and guide conversations, dig up answers to questions and make purchases if you ask her.
Her manners are improving — she’s learning not to talk over people — and, this being SAP, she reads both English and German, which she demonstrated recently with SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner.
SAP doesn’t make avatars (yet), but the company has been working for a couple of years on the back-end software that powers them, Klemba says – databases, speech recognition, device tracking, sequence tracking, knowledge trees that help with context (whether the word “apple” is a company or a fruit) and more.
Klemba sees lots of uses for Suzan — in telemedicine, where SAP has discovered that the elderly like talking to avatars; at the Department of Motor Vehicles; anywhere where there’s a shortage of humans to do tasks.
“We can create workgroups by inviting an avatar in — in Facebook, for example, you don’t know the difference,” he says. “If you ask them, ‘Buy me some flowers for my boyfriend,’ they’ll say, ‘Sure!”
Several other companies are also working on avatars, including Second Life, Blue Mars and Microsoft. A new company, VenueGen, does a twist on Suzan and puts the humans in a virtual environment, so we’d all have avatars that look like us.
I couldn’t get any visuals of Suzan since she’s so new, but here’s a video Klemba recommended of an eerily lifelike avatar from Microsoft named Milo. Someday, Suzan, this could be you!
(Photo: Ape Lad/Flickr)