AI Eye Contact: Cool or Creepy?
AI is in the news again as Nvidia Broadcast reveals an update called Eye Contact, which makes it “appear” as if you are looking into someone’s eyes during a virtual meeting – ALL OF THE TIME. In other words, you could be taking notes, managing your platform, or even something less sincere, like checking email or texting a friend, and still appear engaged and interested. But are we ready for 100% AI eye contact?
Nvidia’s Eye Contact is still in Beta, so it’s not actually ready for primetime yet. Users are currently experiencing a lot of glitches and tics, like pupils that are slow to pop back into position, Iris’s that change color mid-sentence, and a dead, flat effect that may be the last glimmer of humanity that can’t be mass replicated. Obviously, there are millions of nuances when it comes to nailing down such a precise, uniquely human behavior as eye contact.
Are We Ready for 100% Eye Contact?
But assuming it’s possible for any AI to become completely “glitch-free,” is the world ready for 100% eye contact? Or AI eye contact in general between humans? Eye contact conveys so many different human emotions, like concern, interest, love, respect, and fear… to reduce it down to just an avatar of the “directional gaze” seems to underestimate its power and dismiss our own individuality.
Here are some factors to consider as you weigh the use of AI eye contact in business interactions:
Intensity and Culture:
Many people find unrelentless eye contact off-putting. In some cultures, it’s considered rude, even aggressive. That type of Defcon 1 gaze is typically reserved for people in love or people attempting to threaten or intimidate another – not your average virtual meeting!
Authenticity and Trust:
Let’s say you’re having a conversation with a salesperson and one of these glitches occurs. Their eyes change color or they suddenly go cross-eyed on you. Or, there’s no glitch, but you can’t help but notice they’ve not once stopped staring at you! It’s very likely you would recognize that your salesperson is using some sort of AI tool. After all, the media is already warning us to be defensive for the onslaught of deep fakes coming our way.
Once you suspect the salesperson is using AI to fake eye contact with you, it’s not a huge leap to think you might feel “deceived” and start to question the authenticity of everything the seller has told you. You may even feel angry and wonder if the salesperson was ever really paying attention to you or was simply multi-tasking the entire time. After all, isn’t that often the reason people want to have their cameras off or not have to look at them? So they don’t have to pay full attention?
Even if the seller’s intentions were good, e.g., they wanted you to feel connected while they were taking notes or accessing selling points, the damage is done. Perception is reality.
The Case for AI Eye Contact
For those who are speaking as “one-to-many” like broadcasters, or presenters with lots of one-sided content to deliver, this may make sense. After all, it’s a monologue, not a two-way dialogue.
But for those of us who have “live” two-way (or more) virtual conversations and value real human connection and transparency, this is not the panacea many were hoping for. A business speaker and strategist I admire summed it up well:
“Business is about people and authenticity, and I think trying to use AI to portray something that is not real – well not sure that is the best way to start a relationship.” Meridith Elliott Powell, Business Motivational Speaker and Best Selling Author
All of this interest and investment in making eye contact reinforce one thing loud and clear:
Eye contact is critically important to human relationships. And perhaps eye contact is too important to outsource.
How to Make Realistic and Genuine Eye Contact on Camera
Once we accept the fact that there may not be an “easy button” (nor should there be) for human behavior as individual and nuanced as eye contact, where does that leave us?
Fortunately, there are some highly effective, tools and skills that may take more than “one click,” but offer infinitely more realistic, humane, and genuine ways to make eye contact on camera, allowing you to control your behavior, not the AI. I recommend the following three steps to start:
- Assess: Most people grossly underestimate the amount of eye contact they make and have no idea in general how they come across on other’s screens. An objective assessment is the first step to better eye contact and virtual presence. (I prefer to use a combination of AI and human eye assessment for the most accurate and individual results.)
- Tools: Hard time placing your camera? Flexible camera holders like Plexicam allow you to float your camera in front of your screen to at least get you positioned well.
- Skills: Even with self-awareness and proper camera placement, looking at the camera and reading body language is counter-intuitive and defies logic. That’s why professionals seek out the unique skills and practice regimen necessary to develop muscle memory.
If you’re interested in an assessment or exploring any or all of these options for yourself or your team, let’s have a conversation.
If you are ready to tap into the power of building personal virtual relationships through the screen, I’ve laid the path out for you in my new book that won the 2021 Gold Medal Top Sales Book, Look Me In the Eye: Using Video to Build Relationships with Customers, Partners and Teams. In it you’ll find all the steps and tactics you need to engage your audience.
Get your copy today on Amazon!