Virtually Real

Many of my friends are very skeptical of the rate of technological advancement that I predict. Often, something that I’ll say is only 3-4 years away, they’ll say is 20+. Here’s one area that I’ve had this disagreement about. The realism of computer animation.

Let me introduce you to Emily. She’s not real:

She’s not motion capture either. Her face is fully simulated. Granted, there is still a ways to go to achieve true realism, but this is a big step above what I’ve seen before. Her eyes especially have broken through the uncanny valley.

What does this advancement mean for us? What does it mean if you are unable to tell if someone is actually real or not? This is not something entirely new – we’ve been dealing with manufactured news and doctored photos for quite some time. But we’re getting to a point where the manufactured news and stories are becoming increasingly realistic.

Here’s a well done example that’s obviously fake:

However, what if instead of the Death Star over San Francisco, it was a US stealth bomber over an Iranian village. A manufactured video like this, even if it were finally shown to be false, would undoubtedly wreak major damage to the US reputation, incite riots, and the like.

How can we as a society seek to protect ourselves from falsehoods and lies? The biggest salvation I see is the first amendment to the US Constitution. Free Speech, Free Press, and Freedom of Association are key values that guarantee someone’s ability to share information. This is the first step. The problem of the quality of the information is still in question.

Quality of information is an issue we struggle with today. How do you know if a web page contains accurate information or not? Generally, you’ll trust information if the source has proven reputable in the past, or if the information can be confirmed by multiple independent sources.

What’s this change? What does this mean? Here are a few ideas:

* You will appear in commercials to yourself – wearing new clothes, new haircuts, going to events, having a great time using the product that is being sold to you.

* You and your friends will be able to appear virtually in games with one another – modified however you like.

* You’ll be able to use other’s images in a similar way with or without their permissions – this is an interesting moral & legal topic.

Fun times ahead!

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