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Can AI replace you? An Illinois professor created his digital avatar for his online classes

By Sneha Choudhary
-    Feb 08, 2024
Credit : GMI Post

What if you could create a realistic-looking digital version of yourself that can clearly explain complex systems and confidently deliver lectures or keynote speeches?

Prof. Robert Brunner, an expert in emerging technologies at the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois, employed artificial intelligence (AI) tools to achieve just that. In fact, Brunner’s AI clone is ready to deliver another lecture in March 2024 in front of MBA students.



A digital avatar is simply a culmination of AI tools

Brunner was able to create a virtual version of himself that looks and sounds just like him. He used ChatGPT to generate scripts for his lectures, Sythesia to make videos without any special tools, ElevenLabs to produce a voice that sounded like his, and Midjourney to generate images that supplemented his lessons.

According to Brunner, this helps him teach online without spending too much time recording videos. The result? Astonishing authenticity. Even teachers and students who have known Brunner for years struggled to discern between him and his digital doppelganger.

“Most people who watch videos of his virtual avatar think the avatar is really him,” said Tawnya Means, assistant dean for educational innovation and chief learning officer at Gies, in an interview with the school’s news site, Poets and Quants.

Mastering generative AI prompts is the key to a successful digital avatar. Brunner found that once he became good at giving precise prompts to these tools, he was then able to generate a flawless five-minute lecture presented by his digital avatar in just five to 10 minutes. Also, his AI version boasts multilingual capabilities, even though Brunner knows only English.

“It took only a couple of minutes for it to have me speaking Spanish. My virtual clone can also deliver lectures in French and Mandarin,” he told Poets and Quants.


The entire process takes only minutes

Brunner initially planned to record his video in person but soon realized the challenge of figuring out what to say. He then turned to ChatGPT for help in creating scripts, gradually refining the prompts until the AI tool was able to write scripts in his tone of voice,

“The draft script was created by ChatGPT. I thought what if I build a relationship with ChatGPT so it knows me and the course? It took a while but eventually, it started stitching transcripts together. It was getting better and better,” said Brunner.

When he realized that recording and editing all the videos by himself could take a lot of time, Brunner experimented with AI tools that could clone his voice and put the generated voice in Synthesia. The entire process, from script to video, took just 10 minutes.


The ethics of using AI

Although his digital avatar was nearly indistinguishable from him, Burner ensures transparency and never intends it to deceive his students. Burner’s course explicitly states that at times, it will be the digital avatar presenting in front of the students.

“I am the culmination of artificial intelligence, a fusion of innovation and disruption in themselves. The words you hear, the script that flows, and even this very image are the handiwork of various AI tools,” the digital avatar says at the start of its lectures.


AI will not replace you. But someone who uses it better than you might

Brunner’s message to those who are scared of AI is clear. “It’s here and it's only going to get better. You might not be replaced by AI but the time will come when you will be replaced by someone who knows how to use AI better than you. If you start falling behind, you will fall further and further behind,” he said.

Article Tags: AI, Education

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