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A Giant Leap for Virtual Humankind

June 17, 1996

They sound like something out of a science-fiction novel, but "virtual humans" are becoming an increasingly important part of computer-generated communities--in cyberspace and the physical world alike.

Some virtual humans are computerized representations of people who inhabit video games and virtual reality environments. Others are highly sophisticated mannequins that can even be made to bleed synthetic blood.

They've been used by the auto industry to test the safety of car designs that exist only in a computer and by the military for simulations and training. As the humanoids become increasingly lifelike, the entertainment industry is finding uses for digital actors that can move in real time and convey a range of facial expressions. Medical students will use virtual humans instead of cadavers to learn anatomy and practice surgical techniques.

Computer animators are working to develop algorithms so their creations will have the instincts for human motion. Artificial intelligence experts are teaching them how to think.

Representatives from Alias/Wavefront, Silicon Graphics, SoftImage and research universities will pool their knowledge this week at Virtual Humans '96, the first international conference of its kind. Presentations will be held Wednesday and Thursday at the Hyatt Regency Alicante in Anaheim. For more information on the conference, contact the EDS Detroit Virtual Reality Center at (313) 974-5686.

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