5 Things To Know About Avatars
An avatar is a virtual character chosen by a user to represent themselves online, on social networks, or in a video game, for example. But do you know the origin of avatars and the etymology of this word? Here are 5 things to know about these virtual and idealized representations of ourselves.
The first avatar was created in the 1980s.
The first digital avatars were born in the late 1980s, parallel to the beginnings of the Internet and the emergence of the first instant messaging platforms like MSN Messenger.
The idea of using the term "avatar" in this context is attributed to Richard Garriott, who first used it in the computer game Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar released in 1985. Richard Garriott wanted the player to be represented by an alter ego in the virtual world of the game and borrowed this word from Hindu religion.
This term was then adopted in online role-playing games and was first used in literature in Neal Stephenson's novel, Snow Crash, published in 1992.
2- The etymology of the word avatar comes from Sanskrit.
The term avatar derives from the Sanskrit word "avatâra" which means "descent". This word specifically refers to the form used by a god to descend to Earth.
In Hindu tradition, avatars refer to the earthly incarnations of a deity, particularly the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu. In Hindu mythology, it is said that the god Vishnu descended to Earth ten times in different forms (a fish, a turtle, a boar, a warrior, and a dwarf, among others) to restore order in the world of humans and ensure the proper functioning of the universe.
Even though we are not deities, we also use avatars to embody ourselves in worlds that would otherwise be inaccessible to us. Through these virtual doubles, we might even experience a form of digital immortality. But of course, life after death in the digital realm is just an illusion that we should be wary of...
3- Avatars are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The first avatars on messaging platforms like MSN Messenger were extremely basic images, simple photos. Over the course of a few decades, they have evolved significantly as their use became popularized by virtual worlds like Second Life and video games.
Today, 3D avatars have become the norm in the gaming industry, where players embody characters with increasingly sophisticated features. On most social networks and on messaging platforms like Whatsapp, tools are available for users to create three-dimensional avatars and sometimes give them movement.
Meta (formerly Facebook), which owns Whatsapp, has also attempted to revive the concept of a virtual world populated by avatars with its metaverse called Horizon Worlds. However, Mark Zuckerberg's enthusiasm for this idea was not enough to convince internet users.
4- An avatar is an idealized double of the user.
An avatar can be a resemblant portrait of the user or an imaginary representation. Whether or not it is faithful to its model, it generally offers an idealized version of an individual.
Through this incarnation in a virtual world, the user shows what characterizes them or, more broadly, what they like and dream of being.
Although avatars on social networks are supposed to represent the user, they often reflect a flattering image of the user. This is why avatars can be defined as idealized alter egos that allow us to evolve in virtual worlds and communicate with others.
5- AI-generated avatars are trendy.
The software Lensa AI was originally dedicated to photo and video editing. But it has gained worldwide success since it was equipped with a new filter called Magic Avatar in November 2022. Following this addition, the application has been downloaded more than 20 million times worldwide in just three months!
This paid filter creates user avatars from their selfies. It is capable of producing dozens of digitally rendered images that are both realistic and stylized: perfect for displaying fairy, astronaut, or superhero-like portraits on social media!
On social media, displaying an AI-generated avatar has become a real trend. Other applications are trying to compete with Lensa, such as AI Time Machine, which presents itself as a time machine and creates avatars representing different eras...
Although this playful practice may seem innocent, the process of creating these avatars raises many issues. Firstly, these AI-generated portraits present a highly sexualized image of women, and some users have been surprised to be represented completely naked. It should be noted that these artificial intelligence models are trained by extracting content from the entire Internet, and we know how much pornography is present there...
Furthermore, this method of training AI software poses another problem: in order to learn how to generate human portraits, AIs also use copyrighted works of art. More and more artists are denouncing the use of their intellectual property without compensation. More generally, the main issue posed by AI-generated avatars is that there is no legal framework surrounding this new technology.