Home Features To Kite, to love, to get your doppleganger on - Issue 60

To Kite, to love, to get your doppleganger on - Issue 60

(and put your feet up on the couch)


WORDS - Jason Gallate

This Feature is taken from #Issue 60 - SUBSCRIBE TO KITEWORLD MAG

INTRO - We're as much about embracing the future as the glorious past in our 60th issue, so if you are a bit of a technophobe, or in any way scared of the future, stop reading now. In his quest to help you get the most out of your precious recreation time, our resident neuroscientist, Professor Jason Gallate, takes us on a trip to the future to help you (or maybe your avatar) nail some really hard moves

CAPTION | Alright, seeing yourself in the World Champion's boots might still be a bit far off, but could your avatar help you experience rapid improvement? Youri Zoon, Neretva, Croatia  / PHOTO | Slingshot Croatia

Avatars are nothing new. They usually consist of strangely warped animated versions of ourselves that are user controlled in gaming environments. So why are Apple and Microsoft filing new patents to use animated avatars in social networking and video conferencing? The answer is complex, but is at least partly inspired by the fact that people have, for the first time, made realistic digital versions of themselves that can actually do things autonomously.

Alex Schwartzkopf and his colleagues at the US National Science Foundation have made and trained a version of himself that is smart, animated and mimics everything about him, from his professional knowledge to the way he furrows his brow. This digital doppelganger can interact with people via a screen when he is not even in the same country. Theoretically, this will enable Schwartzkopf to do thousands of things at once. He could be evaluating a grant proposal in Hong Kong at the same time as shaking your hand in the CBD of London. But the important question is: can the doppelganger kite?

Apple are interested in the potential practical applications. For instance, you could have a lecturer giving thirty different lectures at once and simply 'stepping into' whichever of these thirty avatars at any time he sees fit to answer questions etc. In other words they are interested in multiplying work. Kiteworld is much more interested in multiplying fun. We want to know if you can have your avatar going in to work for you the next time the wind hits 20 knots, obviously enabling you to get out on the water. However, we are still cautious; what would it be like if your avatar got to do the kiting and you had to go to work? How would it feel to come home and listen to your avatar raving about the awesome session it had just had?

It turns out it might not be all bad. There may be benefits to watching yourself do cool things. When the social researcher Bailenson subtly morphed people's avatars to be slightly more attractive, he found it gave them a confidence boost that persisted for some time afterwards. Half an hour after the experiment, volunteers were asked to identify the most attractive person they thought they could successfully date: people made bolder choices when, unbeknown to them, their copy was slightly prettier or more handsome than reality. Could having an avatar work better than beer?

So could you programme your avatar to do some really hard tricks and then watch yourself and learn to do them? There is some neuroscientific evidence that this idea might not be absurd. Scientists have recently discovered brain cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire when we act or when we see another person doing said action. Thus, the neuron 'mirrors' the behaviour of the other person, as though we ourselves were doing the action. Interestingly there are a lot of these neurons in the motor areas of our brains (the parts that control our physical activity). Neuroscientists have speculated many different functions for mirror neurons but one of the leading candidates is that they are important for learning new behaviours by imitating others. Why not imitate your avatar throwing down a handle-pass instead? Is this too much of a weird feedback loop?

So, the obvious challenge that we are throwing out to all you software developers who also kitesurf is to come up with a programme that has an inventory of tricks on it, in which we can programme 3D avatar of ourselves and then watch, (in a holographic format that we can walk around), ourselves doing the next trick that we want to learn.

It stands to reason that sticking your face on an Youri Zoon video might stretch the limits of what you can achieve with this training method, but what about if you could watch yourself doing a trick that is only just out of reach? Or even one you have nailed but you could watch yourself doing technically perfectly? You come back from the beach, turn on the computer and watch yourself nail it. You get a little shot of self esteem and your mirror neurons encode the right (rather than the wrong) muscular movements - might this not tip you over the edge?

Maybe the hologram app is for the future... but there's a healthy amount of space waiting for you to be exposed in a future issue of Kiteworld (and a chapter of the Kite Show - www.thekiteshow.tv) if you send in a good app that enables a user to stick their face (photo or animated) onto any one of an inventory of videos of standard kite boarding tricks and watch them back.

OK, enough of that - the future can wait. It turns out that, personally, I still like the feeling of getting real sand into my crevasses and high pressure saltwater blasting into and then dribbling out my sinuses. I like the hard work and punishment. I have long been aware that the funnest part of any new sport is the learning of it. Maybe I am strange that way, but I get a real kick out of progressing even more than being competent.

So maybe the real trick is working out how to prolong the buzz of learning for as long as possible and putting off the inevitable plateau. If they came out with an avatar that could do that for me, I would be the first to sign up.

OUTRO - Thanks to Florence Goy who wrote to us enthused by Jason's previous columns and with the suggestion of investigating this idea of animated avatars helping increase our riding performance. Got feedback? Got ideas? Join in at: feedback@kiteworldmag.com


This Feature is taken from #Issue 60 - SUBSCRIBE TO KITEWORLD MAG

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Added: 2013-05-22

Category: Features

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