Using sex to sell the New York Times
October 15, 2006
Cyberface: New Technology That Captures the Soul
By SHARON WAXMAN
SANTA MONICA, Calif.
THERE’S nothing particularly remarkable about the near-empty offices of Image Metrics in downtown Santa Monica, loft-style cubicles with a dartboard at the end of the hallway. A few polite British executives tiptoe about, quietly demonstrating the company’s new technology.
What’s up on-screen in the conference room, however, immediately focuses the mind. In one corner of the monitor, an actress is projecting a series of emotions — ecstasy, confusion, relief, boredom, sadness — while in the center of the screen, a computer-drawn woman is mirroring those same emotions.
It’s not just that the virtual woman looks happy when the actress looks happy or relieved when the actress looks relieved. It’s that the virtual woman actually seems to have adopted the actress’s personality, resembling her in ways that go beyond pursed lips or knitted brow. The avatar seems to possess something more subtle, more ineffable, something that seems to go beneath the skin. And it’s more than a little bit creepy.
“I like to call it soul transference,” said Andy Wood, the chairman of Image Metrics, who is not shy about proclaiming his company’s potential. “The model has the actress’s soul. It shows through.”