How Avatars Work In the Real World

In Hollywood, caucasian men adopt avatars to become one with indigenous aliens, but that’s not how the racial politics of avatars work in the real world. Rural schools in South Korea are getting robot English teachers and, well, read on:

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines — who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

Cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar’s face, said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.

“Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” he told AFP.

It would be a lot easier to just have a direct video feed of their Filipino teachers, but why do that when the magic of virtual reality can give you a white teacher? And unlike real white teachers “they won’t complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan.”

(Via Roy Berman on Twitter)

5 thoughts on “How Avatars Work In the Real World

  1. Somehow, I’m not sure this closes the book on “how avatars work in the real world”.

    It’s certainly an interesting story, though.

  2. I can imagine the reactions of children who are at such a young age faced with electronic devices instead of real teachers. Moreover children today spend many hours watching Tv or playing PC games and now they are left without any personal contact even at school.

  3. My first thought when I read this was “Skinner Box.” While, avatars controlled by real people are not identical with lever pressing pigeons in a Skinner box, I am sure that programmable avatars are much closer than we might imagine. A programmable avatar (with some human assistance) could be stylized for individual students; an electronic version of the private tutor. We might even imagine we are moving temporally backwards, when Sophists were hired out by anyone with money. Just supply your credit card and an electronic avatar will appear to help you along (read: operant shaping or method of successive appoximations) with your studies. Personally, I think it would be great for learning languages.

  4. The thing is, this is how racial politics of avatars work (ie get deployed) in a news article where an early prototype demonstration (of something that is almost certainly never intended to be a real product) is put on by researchers trying to legitimate and give practical logic to what they were doing anyway (to continue their funding) for a few members of media who watched the robot for about 3 minutes then went home and posted it online (as if they had been deeply investigating this phenomenon), so that other people could pass that along through tweets and boing boing and be baffled by the gee-whiz crazy Asians and their exciting/scary technology. So ya I guess that is how avatars work in the real world :P

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