Digital Emily and the future of your flesh

Paul Debevec, the digital effects star behind The Matrix and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, here shows off the latest evolution of animation. The fake Emily looks so real (fast-forward the video to minute 5:00 to see the technically constructed, moving face) that you can no longer tell the difference between computer graphics and reality.

Perfection of human artifice was bound to happen sooner or later. For decades, animators have struggled to overcome The Uncanny Valley effect — the disturbing vibe you get watching animated faces that don’t look quite real. German psychologist Ernst Jentsch coined the term in 1906, as as we’ve written before, most “human” animation attempts such as the Tom Hanks’ characters in 2004’s Polar Express are as eerie as walking through a wax museum at night. The eyes are dead; the faces look ghastly; we don’t believe it is real. But now, fake reality is here.

Untrue faces may mask the truth

What happens to the world of communication when computers can post illusions of humans, who don’t exist, saying anything the controllers behind the scenes want? The first application is obviously video games, such as Quantic Dream’s “Heavy Rain,” but imagine fake faces intersecting with social media and a computer script that could pass the Turing Test. The possibilities are endless. A company could create a fake public relations spokesperson, as verbally gifted as Scott Monty with the sex appeal of Angelina Jolie. We could elect politicians who don’t exist. The illusion of artificial intelligence would be complete, as long as the lips move just so and the script makes us believe.

How about yourself? Would you improve your own image to the world by creating an avatar that looks like Brad Pitt or Megan Fox? If you go out at night, will it mean typing at a computer while you send a 3-D perfection of species out to mingle in a better, photorealistic Second Life?

The standards for morality will slide in such a future, where our presentation to the world and actions are projected digital ghosts, not our own flesh and blood. Work, advertising, social gatherings, love and war could shift from Earth to the Matrix. It’s all a natural progression from our current use of film and video, which now requires careful costumes, lighting and staging, to a real-time artificial projection. Instead of acting out roles in a movie, each human will simply boot up their animated avatar and leap into the fray. Fake reality, here’s looking at you.

3 thoughts on “Digital Emily and the future of your flesh

  1. @Scott I had actually logged on to tell Ben that he was selling you short on this post.

    Seriously though, when I saw this, all I could think of was Xtranormal and what an app like that would be like it the actors looked as real as Emily.

    Rather than some sick and twisted conspiracy theory involving evil corporations and the rebirth of Second Life, I was thinking that this technology could result in a cinematic renaissance, where making a movie no longer required first raising several hundred thousand dollars.

    But I guess I’m just a starry eyed optimist 😉

  2. @Scott, Angelina has nothing on you.

    @Alan, I like your optimism. It could cut both ways. I do think removing our physical reality from our actions could create new temptations to bend rules in new ways. I could be wrong. But hey, don’t we already have IZEA? 😉

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