Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Who's In This Podcast
Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Jill Schiefelbein is the Chief Experience Officer and a Partner at Render

Ep18. Jill Schiefelbein: Do People Trust A.I.-Created Avatars?

Up Next
Ep19. ArtsWave "Truth & Healing" Part 3

Ep18. Do People Trust A.I.-Created Avatars? Discover What the Data Reveals in the First Study of Its Kind on Hyper-Realistic Avatars with Researcher & Render Partner & CXO Jill Schiefelbein

In the eighteenth episode of Creativity Squared, professional speaker, business communication expert, and soon-to-be Doctor Jill Schiefelbein joins us for an exciting dive into the fascinating realm of synthetic media, the pros and cons of digital likenesses, its potential to actually help us be more human, and more. 

“We’re removing this barrier of being on camera, and it’s actually allowing for more human connection.”

Jill Schiefelbein

Jill is a leading researcher on these types of photo-realistic avatars and the Chief Experience Officer and a Partner at Render, a Creativity Squared partner and sponsor. Render is a start-up specializing in creating hyper-realistic avatars, including Helen’s recently unveiled new digital clone, Helen 2.ODD. 

As an early tech adopter, Jill thrives at the intersections of communication, education, and technology.

A University faculty-turned-entrepreneur, she’s an award-winning business owner, author, and recovering academic. She taught at Arizona State University for 11 years, analyzed terrorist documents to provide counter-terrorism messaging strategies to the military, and was a pioneer in digital education.

Jill helps organizations navigate physical, digital, and technological communication spaces to attract customers, increase sales, and retain clients.

As of December 2023, she will have defended her doctoral dissertation, which is the first study of its kind that focuses on the effectiveness, engagement, and trust of hyper-realistic avatars – with both subjective and objective participant data. 

What does the research data reveal? 

In this episode, we got the first glimpse of her research findings here on Creativity Squared! 

Now, we can democratize the video production process.

Jill Schiefelbein

Jill also shared her thoughts on how avatars reach and resonate with viewers, as well as how she consults with businesses to understand, utilize, and leverage synthetic media through added personalization, customization, and choice. 

We geeked out about the history of avatars, the synthetic media industry landscape and business use cases, and how this new medium is democratizing video creation.

Read on to discover more! 

The Human Side of Synthetic Media

Jill began the discussion by sharing her early interest in online courses, dating back 20 years when she developed her first online course as part of an in-person class at Arizona State University.

At this time, online education was in its infancy. However, Jill recognized the power of the technology, and how it could democratize access to knowledge and break down barriers. She saw the opportunity to leverage online platforms to make education more accessible, leading to her involvement in higher education and the founding of ASU Online.

Her excitement for emerging technology-driven communications solutions, like Zoom, ultimately led Jill to synthetic media and hyper-realistic avatars. She noted that these avatars have the potential to humanize communication channels, providing personalized and customized experiences at various touchpoints along the customer journey — a new way of communicating that bridges the gap between text, audio, and video communication, enriching the interaction and engagement between individuals and brands.

It enables such a range of communicative possibilities that didn’t exist before.”

Jill Schiefelbein

The term “avatar,” Jill noted, may conjure up images of video games and virtual worlds, but its origins are deeper than that — the word has a historical lineage dating back to the representation of deities on Earth in ancient religious contexts.

Over the years, avatars have evolved from rudimentary pixelated forms to the incredibly lifelike representations we see today. Custom synthetic avatars take this evolution a step further by creating digital likenesses of individuals using advanced technology.

As Jill went on to explain, “hyper-realistic avatars” or “photo-realistic avatars” are essentially digital clones of individuals, capturing not only their visual presence but also their vocal patterns. The result is a lifelike avatar that can seamlessly communicate, mimicking the person’s expressions and voice.

The possibilities for such avatars are expansive. 

The creative realm can leverage them for performative elements, enabling interactions that add a unique touch to presentations and speeches. In fields like medical and dental, hyper-realistic avatars are being explored to enhance patient experiences, provide personalized follow-up instructions, and build stronger patient-doctor relationships.

For content creators, the avatars provide an innovative way to enhance SEO. By converting podcast transcripts into brief video summaries, for instance, content can become more engaging and visible to search engines. It’s a strategy that adds a multimedia layer to existing content, boosting its reach.

It’s rapid content creation, when you need it, and when you need to personalize and customize things for your clients.”

Jill Schiefelbein

Customization & The Uncanny Valley

Jill, however, emphasized that hyper-realistic avatars shouldn’t replace personalized communication.

They thrive in scenarios where video wasn’t previously being used extensively, such as certain stages of the customer experience, but the key is to find the sweet spot where avatars can augment communication without detracting from authenticity.

Addressing concerns about the uncanny valley – that eerie feeling when something isn’t quite right – Jill pointed out that the goal isn’t to deceive, but to enhance communication and engagement. 

We clone your video presence, we clone your vocal presence.”

Jill Schiefelbein

Transparency is key, and distinguishing between the human and digital likeness is a crucial part of introducing avatars. Educating viewers and users about the technology’s capabilities can bridge this gap and foster a greater understanding of the potential of synthetic media.

The Pros & Cons of Digital Likeness

The conversation shifted as Jill shared several key insights were shared about synthetic media, digital likeness, and the evolving landscape of communication.

One significant point she made concerned the impending challenges in the legal and regulatory space due to the intricate nature of this technology and the lack of understanding among those who formulate rules and laws.

This phenomenon is not new; it’s reminiscent of past cases like Ted Stevens’ “series of tubes” analogy for the internet, revealing the struggle when technology and policy intersect.

Jill explained that when introducing custom synthetic avatars, it’s important to grant clients the autonomy to choose whether to incorporate them.

Owning one’s digital likeness is a pivotal factor. Jill underscored the scientific basis behind the trustworthiness of delivering messages through an avatar, highlighting the correlation between a video’s originator and the trust in its content.

This is really up to you because at the end of the day, it is your likeness.”

Jill Schiefelbein

The discussion touched on the distinction between deep fakes and synthetic media. Jill explained that deep fakes manipulate existing content, while synthetic media combines AI-generated elements to produce entirely new content. She reinforced the idea that owning your digital likeness empowers individuals to control and safeguard their content. This aligns with the current trend of celebrities, athletes, and more advocating for agency over their likeness in the digital realm.

Jill also delved into the broader landscape of synthetic media, highlighting the rapid growth of the industry and citing a massive study estimating the digital human avatar market’s value. She acknowledged the industry’s expansion into various domains, from customer service to coaching, with a focus on personalization, customization, and choice.

This democratization of access to digital likeness technology, Jill suggested, brings enhanced engagement and efficiency, ultimately reshaping communication across industries.

The Licensing Landscape & Research Insights

As the conversation continued, Jill discussed the licensing aspect of using Render’s avatar technology.

She explained that the avatars created using Render are entirely owned by the users. Users have the right to download and use all the generated content, and Render retains no rights to the avatars. The application process also ensures that avatars are not used for malicious purposes or fake news dissemination.

Jill stressed that Render’s approach is to adapt and incorporate the best technology available at any given time, ensuring the highest quality and performance for users. She also hinted at the research conducted, showcasing how the improvements in avatar technology between different versions were reflected in the research results.

It is your IP, you have access to download every single piece of it. It is not ours whatsoever.”

Jill Schiefelbein

After sharing further details about the future of Render’s evolving technology, Jill discussed the intriguing findings of her research analyzing the impact of avatar videos on viewers.

She also highlighted the importance of context in viewer perception.

Furthermore, her research explored retention rates of information presented by avatars. Her results suggested that avatars were effective in conveying information to viewers without significant differences in comprehension.

These findings could have major implications, particularly in business and education. Avatars could potentially replace the need for extensive video production, offering a cost-effective and efficient way to deliver information. 

What’s more, Jill’s research is poised to extend beyond the initial findings. She intends to explore the performance of avatars in delivering emotional messages compared to informational content. This investigation could provide valuable insights into leveraging avatars for persuasive communication.

Jill expressed her infectious excitement about these possibilities and reiterated that this study marked the first of its kind to focus solely on the efficacy of avatars without supplementary content.

The Power of Now & the Future

Jill’s advice to businesses considering avatars is to avoid the “spaghetti thrower” approach. 

She emphasizes the importance of strategic integration, where businesses identify specific touchpoints where avatars can enhance the customer experience. By aligning avatars with clear objectives, companies can harness their potential effectively and avoid scattering resources aimlessly.

Jill’s research lays the groundwork for a future where avatars play a pivotal role in communication strategies. 

As the technology advances, more questions arise, such as the impact of emotion in vocal delivery and the use of avatars in different contexts. Her ongoing research aims to address these questions and explore the full spectrum of possibilities that avatars offer.

Jill Schiefelbein’s infectious enthusiasm for the potential of digital avatars is truly captivating. Her passion for exploring the myriad possibilities of this technology radiates through her words and insights, and her genuine belief in the transformative power of these avatars to enhance communication and learning is a driving force that encourages others to share in her vision of a more efficient and engaging future.

This changes the game on production at so many different levels.”

Jill Schiefelbein

If you want your own custom synthetic avatar, Creativity Squared is collaborating with Render to bring their Avatar Experience to Cincinnati, OH, on October 25 and 26, so you can digitally clone yourself too. 

If you’re interested in learning more, sign up for the Creativity Squared free weekly newsletter at CreativitySquared.com where all event details will be shared.

Links Mentioned in this Podcast

Continue the Conversation

Thank you, Jill, for being our guest on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates will go to ArtsWave, a nationally recognized non-profit that supports over 150 arts organizations, projects, and independent artists.

Join Creativity Squared’s free weekly newsletter and become a premium supporter here.