In real life Byron Reeves is a bald academic. But Reeves also conducts research using his avatar, a strapping man with hair.


“Lots of companies already use avatars,” explains Reeves, a psychology professor at Stanford University. “Using avatars, you can conduct meetings, meet clients and have brainstorming sessions without having to travel. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the building. And you don’t risk getting swine flu from shaking hands with an avatar.” Reeves, who specializes in human interaction with avatars, is the author of Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete.


Today, companies like IBM, Cisco, SAP and Boeing use avatars – 3-D characters whose age, gender and appearance the user chooses -- to interact with colleagues and customers around the world.


“Thousands of people at IBM meet every week through their virtual characters”, notes Reeves. “Even recruitment is done with avatars.”
Soon the 3-D characters may inhabit less technology-driven workplaces, too.


“Avatars will take over repetitive and boring tasks that humans find unfulfilling,” predicts Reeves. “Humans still have to direct the avatars, but working through them is much more fun.”

Reeves’s experiments show that people are more stimulated -- and their hearts beat faster -- when directing avatars than when doing the tasks themselves. Office environments, too, can be spiced up in 3-D.

But Avatar, the movie, won’t take over planet Earth any time soon. “The avatars in the movie are real-life characters, while the avatars we have now just live in a 3-D computer world,” explains Reeves. “On the other hand, there are things I can do with my avatar that the people in the movie can’t do!”