Along with a voice, the avatar needs a face, which is based on the .jpg image you uploaded but can move, thanks to digital animation. The lips, facial muscles and head move as the avatar talks. The avatar's eyes even blink, though this effect still has a bit of a house-of-horror look. Intellitar tried to find a compromise between a good moving image and available computing resources, and the company is working toward a more realistic experience, Davidson said. A demonstration, featuring Davidson's own intellitar, is available on the company's website.
Once the avatar gets a voice and a face, the real person can start to give it an inner life.
"You step through a 40-question personality test, and that's designed to identify kind of a 'baseline brain,' where we come back and recommend a brain," Davidson said. For example, Intellitar may recommend giving the avatar an extroverted personality. Through another set of questions, which can include 30 or more topics with 50 or more questions in each category, the user fills the avatar's brain with information loved ones may want to know. The questions are designed to draw out information such as where the user was born and lived, what they did for a living, their likes and dislikes, and their memories of other family members.
The user can also add knowledge through written texts and other content. Plug-ins will even allow a user to give the avatar information he or she never had, such as expert advice on fly-fishing, Davidson said.
When someone starts to have a conversation with the avatar, the artificial intelligence engine will piece together answers from the provided data and the avatar will deliver those answers like a speaking person. More traditional keepsakes such as photos, videos and documents can also be uploaded and provided to viewers, with narration by the avatar.
One early user of Virtual Eternity, Nick Lioce, said it was ideal for him and his wife to pass on their cultural heritage to their children.
"The setup and training are simple and straightforward. I guess [the only] negative would be that you could spend a lot of time training your intellitar, meaning you really get into the concept of documenting and archiving your family history," Lioce said in an e-mail interview.
An individual membership to Intellitar costs $5.95 per month or $64.95 per year. A family membership, including four intellitars, unlimited storage, and other features, costs $24.95 per month or $274.95 per year. In the next few months, the company plans to add a "family tree" feature for paid members, which will form a tree of family members' avatars displayed in virtual 3D. Other features coming in the next few months include a speech-to-text tool that will allow people to converse with an avatar, using a headset, rather than typing in their questions.
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