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The Rapport Report

March 30th, 2021

Welcoming Jeremy Bailenson to Rapport’s Advisory Board

by Ashley Whitlatch, VP of Marketing
by Jeremy Bailenson, Advisor

We’re incredibly thrilled to welcome Jeremy Bailenson to the team as an advisor. Jeremy is the founding Director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, a Faculty leader at Stanford’s Center for Longevity, and is a Professor in their Dept. of Communication. He also holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Northwestern and his research has been funded by the National Science Foundation for 20+ years. Jeremy’s many studies often focus on how virtual experiences lead to changes in perceptions of self and others. Most recently, he’s been featured in every prominent media publication in the U.S. and abroad around his research about the Zoom fatigue we’ve all been feeling this past year, and how to combat it.

To say we’re excited to have his expertise and advice is an understatement. Here are a few welcoming words from our two Founders:

“I am thrilled that Jeremy will be joining the advisory board of Rapport and Speech Graphics. His knowledge of the field and his practical insights into deploying avatars will form an invaluable contribution to our success.” - Gregor Hofer, CEO

“Jeremy is an influential scientist and visionary with a wide-reaching voice who is two steps ahead of everyone else on the future directions of virtual interaction. We are very fortunate to have him join our advisory board to help steer Rapport as a powerful communication platform.” - Michael Berger, CTO

We thought it’d be interesting to get Jeremy’s take on why he’s excited about what we’re working on at Rapport, our Speech Graphics technology, his Zoom fatigue research, and COVID-19’s impact on the future of AI and use of avatars. Jeremy, welcome to the team!

What made you want to join Rapport/Speech Graphics as an Advisor? And what makes you most excited about being part of our future?

Speech Graphics has been a true thought leader in how one moves from voice to facial expression for years. The first time I saw the technology in 2015 I was blown away by how well the system can animate the face, in real-time, from simply hearing the voice. The fact that the work is driven not just by technology but by experts in linguistics is one of the reasons Speech Graphics is a leader.

Why do you find what we're doing here compelling?

There are so many reasons why it’s a good idea to use the voice to animate the face, ranging from keeping privacy from a camera during a Zoom call to being able to track facial expressions from someone wearing virtual reality headsets. Whether producing expressions for an AI based on speech-to-text, or powering real-time avatars, Rapport solves a huge problem.

What excites you the most about this industry as a whole? What will it look like in the next year? The next 5 years?

Remote communication and remote work is here to stay, and companies will need to adapt. The evolution of avatar technology is accelerating.

In your opinion, how has COVID impacted how we might see AI or the use of avatars implemented in everyday business?

Even after Covid-19, the stigma of working remotely has been shattered. Now, the key is to build interfaces that feel comfortable--ones that maximize social presence and collaboration, but protect privacy and prevent Zoom Fatigue. Avatars will be a huge part of this solution.

You've recently been featured in every major publication, WSJ, USA Today, Washington Post, CNBC, etc. sharing your findings around Zoom fatigue. In your opinion, how might the use of avatars help solve this rising issue?

Sometimes we want to present ourselves as a social presence, but don’t want to invite coworkers into our living rooms via a camera for a work meeting. Moreover, the “grid” is not how people interact naturally because the spatial context has now meaning. Avatars will solve both these problems.

What’s a recent research project you're proud of?

We just published a paper showing how using VR while underwater--actually floating in a pool with a snorkel and waterproof goggles--causes illusions where people actually believe they have moved but were anchored in place. You can read more here.

Fun Question we ask everyone: What's your favorite animated film?

Sing, because I have watched it dozens of times with my daughters. :)

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