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It is getting harder to separate Virtual Reality from Reality

These people are creating a movie. How? By stepping inside the movie! Image credit: Disney, The Lion King

Did you see the Lion King 2019 trailer? Just in case I inserted the clip here. I don’t know about you but it is a long way from Disney animation. Most details look real, can you tell the lion cub is not a real lion cub?

Reading the article on Wired makes it even more interesting because it takes you to the production site to discover a new way of making movies: using Virtual Reality to immerse yourself in the movie as you are creating the movie. The director and his assistant (see photo) are donning virtual reality goggles bringing them inside the movie and they can change the light direction, its intensity, the location of the various characters, objects in the scene experimenting with them. This goes way beyond the aspect (amazing) of the realism of each character, of the landscape. According to Wired this is providing a view onto the future of film making,

At the same time it is also providing a clear statement on the fading boundary between reality and digital reality and along with that of our shortcomings in telling one from the other.

In a way this may be a positive evolution since we are extending reality to encompass our digital artefacts. On the other hand this is showing the potential loss of control on the new reality.

Cheating and faking are as old as our species (not sure about other species although there are examples in animal life of cheating and faking, camouflage is a way of faking and it is quite widespread in Nature) probably because we can operate at an immaterial level (talking, inventing…) and it is much easier, and usually more effective to raise the stakes in the immaterial space. The webspace is an ideal space if you are interested in faking reality. In a way you might say that cyberspace is already a fake, by lulling us in the perception of a reality that is not there, it is just, in the best situation, mirrored and the mirror can only capture part of the reality, the rest is created by our brain.

The extend of fake news, deepfake, is now more widespread than you might think, or, worse, perceive. It has increased as technology makes it easier and easier to create “convincing” alternative reality and disseminate it (read the  WSJ article on Millions of Business listing on Google Maps are fake).  Technology is also helping in detecting fakes (Adobe is studying the use of AI to detect modified videos and images) but it seems easier to create fake then to intercept “all” of them

I can’t think of a sigle advance in technology and on our capabilities that has not shown some dark side (as they say, the person that invented the ship also invented the cast-away and the shipwreck). And yet, the ups have been overall worthier the downs. I hope this will remain so in the future. The Digital Reality Initiative at IEEE is looking at both sides, the ups and the downs. We just met last week in Atlanta and the aspect of deepfake came up along with the commitment of facing it as a most crucial aspect arising from the fast advance in digital reality technologies and applications.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.