In Jurassic Park, Dr. Ian Malcolm goes on a bit of a rant to John Hammond about the dangerous leaps in technology that made his park possible, highlighting his point by saying, “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” He was talking about cloning dinosaurs, but his argument can still apply to scientific developments that aren’t quite as dramatic. The problem is that it’s tough to know which things you can do but shouldn’t until the metaphorical tyrannosaurus starts chomping on tourists.
Still, it seems important to keep Dr. Malcolm’s words in mind when discussing this Atlantic article about a group of software developers at The University Of Washington who developed a system that can create digital masks of a person’s face and then manipulate that mask into matching the expressions and mannerisms seen in a photo or video. Then, they can take that mask and have it mouth words that a different person said, all while retaining that mask’s established mannerisms. Basically, they made digital celebrity faces and programmed those faces to move the way the celebrity moves while talking, and now they can tell those faces to say whatever they want while still moving the way the celebrity does. To visualize this in the most terrifying way possible, here’s a handful of famous people quoting the words of George W. Bush:
Digital recreations of people’s faces have been around for a long time, but instead of actually scanning these famous people into a computer, the team behind this program made all of their masks with existing photos and videos. In theory, that opens the door for this technology to be used to make digital masks of anyone, assuming enough photos exist. The developers envision this being used for virtual and augmented reality, or for Hollywood special effects, but that’s only because they’re not thinking evil enough.
The videos above show Barack Obama’s face being used to repeat the words of George W. Bush while still looking like Barack Obama, so if this technology becomes advanced enough that the computer model is indistinguishable from a real face, what’s stopping someone from making a seemingly real video of Barack Obama saying something terrible? Or a video of you saying something terrible? If it does become that advanced, and then if it spreads and becomes a common tool, how can any of us trust anything anyone says? How can you even trust the things you’re saying? Maybe your face has just been programmed to say things that some nefarious puppet master wants you to say? Maybe we’ve all been replaced by digital mannequins, and we’re just dancing around for the enjoyment of an unflinching machine god?
Seriously, though, this technology isn’t really as scary as the cloned dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. It’s way scarier. Also, one of the faces they used was Daniel Craig, and he was literally in an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers remake. Come on.