The Inevitable A.I. Celebrity - Part 1: The computer in your hand is not a toy.
This is Part 1 of a four-part series of articles on the future of on-camera talent and the role computers are likely to play -- even becoming the talent itself.
Computing power has expanded more than a trillion times over the past fifty years and is measured using megaflops. In tech, a "megaflop" is not a movie that falls flat on its face at the box office. Megaflop is the index for measuring computing speed equal to one million floating-point operations per second. The computing power of a 1994 Sony Playstation didn’t produce a single megaflop of speed. Today, the 2016 Playstation 4 my children think of as "old" pulls off a speed index of 1,843,200 megaflops. It’s almost impossible for a human to conceptualize this delta. Using distance, and not computing speed, to help visualize it: if the computing power of a 2016 Playstation 4 was represented by the distance from the Earth and the Moon, then a 1994 Playstation’s power would be equivalent of taking an elevator only halfway up the Empire State Building in New York. In reality, the Playstation didn’t produce a single megaflop, so I’m really, really giving it the benefit of the doubt. In 1965, Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, came up with what’s become known as “Moore’s Law” which stated that computer power grows exponentially. Mr. Moore was wrong. Computing power is exceeding exponential growth and in fact, is increasing at an increasing rate. There is no factor in human achievement which even comes close to the expansion of computing power, but it comes with some risks.
So I just told you what you already know: computers are getting better. Besides helping you send your friends selfies or shots of your most recent meal, what does all of this really mean? Let’s take Snapchat as an obvious example of what computing power can do with images and videos. There are filters on Snapchat that can nearly instantly transform and render video into thousands of outputs such as images of you as an elderly person, or your face in the shape of an animal that looks sort of like you, and it does this very well, especially considering your mobile device generates the video on-the-fly in real-time. Again, not to look back with too much awe at the ’90s, but a single tiny frame of 3D graphics used to take hours to render on a Commodore Amiga in 1993, this is not long after Al Gore invented the Internet and there weren’t enough websites to really justify a search engine. The search engines that did exist were named by nerds who loved Archie comic books and had names like “Archie” and “Jughead”. Now the computer in your hand can render photorealistic renders of your face on your friend’s body, and their face on yours, in full-motion video and instantly. This is accomplished using the principles and power of artificial intelligence to rapidly generate predictions and calculations of 3D space, lighting, and shading. That device also can make phone calls which is a really handy feature also, but not very exciting anymore, something that was still science fiction just a couple decades ago.
The real tech behind “face swap” apps actually pose a very scary and very real danger. What if you could create a digital puppet of a powerful politician, or scholar, and use that digital puppet to create a video of that person doing or saying things they didn’t actually say or do with potentially catastrophic consequences? The truth is that this already a name, and it’s called a “Deep Fake.” Deep Fakes are currently being used to trick banks and accounting firms into releasing funds from legitimate companies, family offices, and even governments, to fraudsters all over the world. This is done when those criminals “fake” the identity, voice, and image of CEOs and other corporate leaders using AI-powered technology, like the tech behind the always humorous Snapchat, to fraudulently authorize the release of funds. This is just one example of current ethics abuse of image and voice synthesis using A.I.. Yes, global warming and the environment pose a threat to our existence, but so do the computers, and in ways just as real.
What does this all have to do with Hollywood, other than adding fuel to the fire of the sci-fi writers' room? In Part 2 we’ll discover how computer-powered “Deep Fakes” open the door to expand the value of on-camera talent.