Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Realism Dilemma

Soon enough we will find that realistic animation is not only for entertainment and education but can also cause great harm. Today we already have trouble distinguishing fake news from real news. Tomorrow we will not know whether what we see is real, or even if what we can touch is the genuine article. The technologies of realistic animation as well as 3D printing and similar automated manufacturing will allow us to create visual illusions of real things and then eventually create fakes that can't be distinguished from the real thing.

So what is the big deal about all of this? Well this will represent a considerable blow to the average person's ability to understand what is and isn't real. If that weren't bad enough, the societal consequences will be worse. The fact that anybody, and thanks to automatic animation technology coming out, I really do mean anybody, can do this means that we will have to find a way to know what is real and what isn't. The only way to tell what is real and what isn't is to have a surveillance state that records people and their surroundings all of the time.

That's right. The technology that's being used to make fancy special effects and artificial worlds is going to have far reaching consequences that will change our society in very ugly ways. You won't be able to have a surprise party anymore thanks to the constant surveillance on everybody at every time. And it will get even worse when we find a way to fool the human eye better with visual scenes seen in real life that are entirely fake.

Just imagine how many political parties, cults and religions are going to use pseudo-life scenes to convince people of their point of view. After 3D printing gets more sophisticated there will be fake artifacts to go along with it.

If you want to know just how far from reality we've already come, consider IKEA's advertisements which are made with rendered computer models that look completely real. There are already surely many other examples which we aren't aware of doing the exact same thing.

Today's magic tricks will be tomorrow's false realities. Remember that during the next  special effects heavy blockbuster you watch.

What Do We Do Once We've Mastered Animation?

Once we've made photorealistic moving pictures the next frontier will be photorealistic simulations with maximum interactivity. In other words, simulations where you can do any number of things you want that aren't part of some preconceived creator's plan. Picture a world where you can do whatever you want, like scrape the paint off a building or blow up a whole city and have it be done in a different way every time.

Then we will bring the virtual into the real world with robotic scenes that exploit magnetic fields to create real life animations using micro robots. There are other ways of creating pseudo-in-life scenes but this is the most practical. At some point they're bound to become interactive,, by that I mean touchable, though I imagine that day would be a long ways off because if the robots get too small, they could be accidentally inhaled. Robotic scenes that you can move around in could be an experience more exciting than a video game but of course there will be certain safety guidelines which I can't yet predict.

Somewhere along the way, art will also evolve psychologically. If you like looking at art that doesn't look back, you're in for a rough ride. In the future art will be able to analyze a person's gaze and change things depending on where you're looking. I suspect that most if not all the technology necessary to do this is available now. So if you're an artist and you feel like messing with somebody, go ahead and do it. Just wait until we have live animation that records the person watching it and adjusts depending on how much they like it.

At some point we will progress to the last two stages: simulated intelligent life forms and real designed life forms. We will do so because there is no other alternative just as Pixar makes more realistic looking environments in film after film because they want to stay on the technological edge. Just like they ignore the awkwardness of realistic looking CG environments, people in the future will ignore the ethics of artificial life doing exactly what we want it to do and its similarity to human slavery of the past. Proponents will say that unlike slaves, artificial life forms will want to do what we made them to do. But of course, if we give them any sort of will of their own, some will want to do something else and if they're smarter, stronger and faster than us then they'll want to boss us around. The question is this: Do we want to let the machines manage us or do we want to become machines ourselves and evolve beyond humanity?

If you don't believe me, then you'll want to read this:

That alone should be evidence that human beings are living on borrowed time.

Nobody knows exactly how bright or dark our future may be. If they do know, it'll be hard to tell the true seers from the fakes. For all we know every human alive will perish and none of this shall happen. Or maybe we might decide not to pursue further technological innovation that would potentially ruin us. I don't think that will happen though, because we tend to see the continued existence of the human species as an imperative and the Earth will become uninhabitable in around 100 million years as the sun grows hotter. Or, closer to the present, we will need to figure out how to maintain ecosystems that we barely understand. I suspect that the latter will be one of many forces that drive the development of general intelligence superhuman level AI.

Before I wrap this up, there are a couple of questions. Will we at some point redesign Earth's ecology in order to keep up with us if we evolve into machines of some kind? Should we not design psychological art of this sort due to what it may evolve into? How will we cope with animation and later interactive artforms that look and sound, maybe even taste, feel and smell like reality? I may answer some of these questions in a blog post soon.