Caught between the forces of mainstream media and government propaganda it seems we can believe nothing we see or hear. Much of this problem is rooted in the agendas of large companies and those who control them. These companies have become so big and powerful that they now influence government’s message and direction. Fake news and false flags have left many of us having a difficult time deciding what is real, adding to this is the rapidly growing ability of computers to generate and alter human images. This is all about to go to a whole new level.
Margrethe Vestager, the European Union Antitrust Chief, is busy touting that the EU’s influence gives it the opportunity and power to shape the world. She insists the EU is ready to take on companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon which she contends has used their power to undermine competition, keep out innovation and collect data on us. This has given these companies great power to manipulate society. Google did this when it used the power of its search engine to favor its own comparison shopping service. While the EU has signaled it is going to make several big companies use their power in a way that’s fair and doesn’t discriminate the fact is this is easier to say than do.
The EU plans to do this by flexing its muscle with a combination of competition policy and regulation changes, however, whether it will be successful remains to be seen. Like many people, I remain dubious. These powerful companies already are overly involved with shaping the message of media and government propaganda are about to unleash upon society a great deal more computer-generated models and images. These have advanced to where they blur reality and diminish the need for humans to act as spokespeople or to represent organizations.
Back in 2011, Swedish fashion chain H&M admitted to using computer-generated models to showcase collections on its website. Since that time the ability to create computer-generated images has only gotten better. We have advanced to where it is difficult, no, it would be more accurate to say impossible to know if what you are seeing is really a person or simply the image of one. Drilling down into this issue forces us to where creativity, marketing, and price-point intersect and that has huge implications for society going forward. We have reached the point where what we are asked to believe in a world of fake news and false flags is only limited by our imagination.
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An example of this and somewhat harmless can be seen in the virtual models H&M has generated for use in ads. These images look completely human, but upon inspection, if you look closely, they might all have the same body shape and pose with a real model’s head superimposed on the body where the skin tone has been digitally altered to match her complexion. This step which moves past “photoshopping” has created a bit of controversy. H&M has drawn criticism for creating a false reality and creating an unrealistic body image for women to live up to. The Swedish website Aftonbladet first noticed the uncanny similarities of the models. Hacan Andersson, a spokesman from H&M, confirmed the deception by saying:
“It’s not a real body, it is completely virtual and made by the computer. We take pictures of the clothes on a doll that stands in the shop, and then create the human appearance with a program on a computer.”
Andersson argued the company made the choice to use the images of computer-generated models because it simplified the process of the photoshoot and also that it allowed customers to focus on the clothes rather than the models. He acknowledged, “The result is strange to look at, but the message is clear: buy our clothes, not our models.”
The Fact Is Computer-Generated Images Often Appear More Real Than Reality
Computer-generated imagery, known as CGI, encompasses the tricks and the ability to generate and manipulate images. This creates some interesting possibilities going forward as well as greasing an already slippery slope with endless possibilities. Eventually, this could lead to a form of “Photoshop” on steroids. Anyone familiar with Photoshop knows it delivers the magic that helps people bring their creative vision to life. By editing raw image files and photos using state-of-the-art photo editing not only can people create compelling high-dynamic-range images (HDRI) they can also mislead viewers as to what is real.
Expect a lot more of this in the future. By adding distinct characteristics from individuals that society views in a very positive light to a CGI it is not difficult to imagine that we might extend some of that same positive feeling to that image. If this is true then it is not difficult to envision both politicians and others “scrubbing” their voice and persona ever so slightly as to improve the impact they have on advancing their cause. Slowing their speech, deepening the tone of their voice, shaving off a few unwanted pounds. Manipulating people in this way could be looked at as a form of propaganda but in reality, it is only one step farther than we already go when we do extreme editing of a news clip to sway public opinion.
The future of TV news could be very different in that it could be completely computer-generated. Take, for instance, the many imitation sounds engineered into some electronic keyboards today. While an audiophile may be able to tell the difference the average listener cannot and most people don’t care if it results in a less expensive download for their iPod. Since the same thing can be said about music and even art this can be scary, especially if you are the person suddenly discovering that a robot could take your job. In Vegas, stage shows used to all have live orchestras but now many musicians have a difficult time finding work on the strip. We have also seen the electronic equivalent of human-generated music gain a foothold as a genre and become a market all its own. Voice actors are already feeling the heat as the encroachment of synthetic voices hit the industrial/corporate market and push into audiobooks.
The ability to produce a human-sounding voice with all the inflections, nuances, and timing that makes it interesting often requires as much technical artistry from a software engineer as it does from an experienced voice actor, however, at some point computers will be able to take over and perform this task as routine. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been watching recent trends in technology. A quick search for the words “voiceover” and “computer voice” will bring you rapidly up to speed. Apple has even designed into its iPhone a feature called voiceover which the visually impaired find very valuable, it reads the words on the screen out loud in what Apple calls a “spoken English interface.”
Much of this is happening beneath the surface with little fanfare because most people consider it harmless. The fact is we now have computers that sound more human than humans and on a positive note speak more clearly. It is not difficult imagining such figures saving media networks money by delivering the news. All this takes us to a time in the future when computers have the ability to generate images that deliver dialog and can act with emotion. By mimicking figures of the past or their best qualities and traits it would be possible to create false figures with compelling personalities.
In life most people never meet or hear their Senator or President speak in person, this means a “gentle concealed” enhancement could go a long way to make them appear more appealing. It is important to consider that if this technology can be used to enhance the stature of a person it could also be used to diminish their standing or even as a tool for character assassination. This makes this sometimes deceptive and potentially dangerous area of technology ripe for abuse. Sadly, it appears in the future it will become even more difficult to determine what is real and what is false.