Zoom has rolled out an update for its video conferencing platform that introduces a new feature that may well fuel your nightmares for weeks to come.
In addition to virtual backgrounds and video filters, Zoom now lets users appear as an animated avatar in animal form, with choices ranging from cat to cow, raccoon, bunny, dog and more.
The avatars not only replace the original video feed, but also mirror the person’s head movements and facial expressions courtesy of a few AI tricks.
Zoom set out the rationale for its eccentric new feature in a company blog post, saying the Avatars tool will be useful on multiple fronts, both breathing a bit of levity into meetings and concealing the video feed of those that would prefer not to feature on camera.
“Video communication is a modern marvel, but creating those magical and spontaneous moments that make in-person interactions so special can be difficult in a virtual setting,” the company says.
“Avatars are an easy and entertaining way to engage with attendees and create a bit of fun. They also provide a good middle ground for users who don’t want to appear on camera, but still want to express body language and facial expressions.”
Although the novelty value is clear and users will likely have plenty of fun messing around with the feature, the idea it might be employed in a business context feels farfetched.
Once you’ve seen your co-worker metamorphose into an animated cow, it’s unlikely you’ll care much about the spreadsheet they are presenting. Indeed, you may never look at them the same again.
Although the new avatars are charming enough at first glance, there is also a sinister quality to them. It’s difficult to identify precisely why, but it has at least something to do with the beady little eyes.
In reality, the new feature is more of a marketing stunt than a genuine platform upgrade. If it wasn’t, Zoom would have started with human avatars, which will supposedly land in a future update. But to the company’s credit, the strategy appears to have paid off.
The Avatars feature is available now on Zoom for Windows, macOS and iOS. TechRadar Pro has asked for clarification as to when Android users will gain access to the feature.
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