Link to Study: Empathy from Avatars
I was wondering around youtube as I usually do around 5am on a Saturday night, when I happily stumbled across my list of subscriptions. Of course one of them is News Science so I can pretend to be an intellectual and be up on recent discoveries that are otherwise interesting, goofy, or might be on reddit in a few days. They released a video this week describing a new technology to allow motion capture style goggles use the movement of your eyes and transpose those movements onto a digital avatar. In a discovery that must have been one of the nicest “This will be an easy 100k study” they discovered that human beings are more likely to trust a creature if they can actually see its moving its eyes. This is a study that could only have come from a liberal arts department, and given how much common sense was cycled into this, I can only imagine that department probably has been in bed with a communications department director at some point. But enough about my hatred of com departments, and back to this magical discovery.
The core of the idea is to make Avatar’s more trustworthy in whatever various regions of human digital interaction. And the idea is that somehow we must impose empathy on our avatars in order to make them more acceptable. Really what amuses me here is this entire notion of trying to make Avatars not lie to me. The idea that at some point I will find non human interaction to be trustworthy is I suppose to some degree interesting, but ultimately as a creature that was raised purely by the internet in terms of social interaction, I have learned one thing in all my years, and that of course is that anything that at one point was a series of 0’s and 1’s no matter how legitimate they may seem, or how likely it is they are not a botnet attempting to gain my credit card information, should always be treated as nothing more than a bot that just wants me to give them my social security number. I suppose this outlook on online interaction is somewhat cynical, but honestly an avatar shouldn’t be a trustworthy source of information, at least not when it comes to online information. If anything the reason they are avatars of ourselves is because we are lying. The very idea of an avatar is nothing more than a very basic lie.
I mean if you look at just why we create these things, its to give ourselves an identity in a world that humans can’t exist, whether it be some digital framework, or some other kind of virtual construct, the basic idea is to project a human mind onto an object that doesn’t exist within reality, or if it does exist, it is most certainly a different creature than the human that is projecting on to it. In that fashion, I don’t think there is any true foundation to make avatars more trustworthy, so that at some odd point we can move past that “uncanny valley” of reality in virtual constructs. The real problem with this study that I find is that yes it may be more trustworthy than say an avatar whose eyes that don’t move, but that doesn’t in fact make it trustworthy.
If anything, it only furthers to separate us from our own reality. In this case, I’m really not sure why anyone would want to take an avatar over say something like video conferencing, where it is a legitimate human being on the other side of the line. There is truly no purpose on the progression of Avatars for business because we are working to develop better ways to simply display the real us, so just who in the world was this study aimed at? And I suppose that’s the real curiosity for me, beyond what seems like common sense, why are we researching in areas of Avatar development. If anything advances in video technology have allowed us to move away from digital constructs, so why start researching in the opposite direction.
I’m guessing there is some weight in video games which are reliant upon an avatar [MMO’s being the prime example], but honestly there is a reason that we don’t need to trust an Avatar. When we begin to look at a lie and empathize it we start to lose touch with reality. I guess that wonders off into my speech on escapism and losing yourself in a digital world because the real one sucks. But are we truly looking to develop complete separation from reality, construct entire digital worlds in which no need to step back towards the real one is necessary. And to question my own thought on the matter, are there not moral implications for making that kind of move away from reality? I know I said in a previous post that escapism is all some people have and they should be allowed to keep it, and I suppose I stick by that statement as best I can. But I will say that we do not need to make the reality of escapism more trusting, I think there needs to be clear indications that this is still escapism and that ultimately there should be a reminder of reality wherever you go.
Anyway, reading the study itself, there is an obvious focus on the idea that humans only display the core of their thoughts through verbal or textual communication. But both of those forms truly lack emotion, even with the creation of things like emoticons ( =) , :3 , 😛 , etc.) there is no way to actually display non verbal communication, which we being very happy tree monkeys use as the way to determine someones emotional state. Poker is proof and point that words have nothing to do with if we are lying or not, what it comes down to is simply the display of non verbal communication that is the tip-off to others in our little monkey sphere as to what we are actually thinking. I think to some degree this is why trolling / sarcasm has such a strong hold on the internet, and the entire idea of a Poe Troll [Poe’s Law] exist because without a non verbal context, humans are absolutely inept at deciphering how serious someone is about what it is they are saying. That’s why I have to laugh whenever I hear someone say that true trolling is some kind of art form, in that only those who spend their lives trolling about the internet are even the least bit in tune with being able to see right through the sarcasm of other trolls. If you want proof of that, go look at some legitimate Yahoo answers threads, or really just go to local message boards that have little influence or are populated by people who were not raised in the early to late 90’s and watch how they interact with completely inane statements. Its as if they just shut down and except that what these people say is what they actually believe.
Anyway, here have this picture to sum up my thoughts on Avatars and how they “lie” to us all.