The Synthetic Generation: Post-Realism

If we look ahead through the lens of technology, we can see that finding out the truth is becoming increasingly difficult. What is real and what is fake? The truth can easily be manipulated. A picture of Justin Bieber eating a burrito on a bench in a park across the street went viral recently. It turned out to be a lookalike (Brad Sousa). Everything was staged to warn people about fake news. Recordings of CNN reporter Jim Acosta, who was banned from the White House, also went viral. The video was only manipulated a little, sped up at some point and then slightly slowed down. This made it seem as if the reporter behaved a little more aggressively towards the press officer. The real and fake game does not necessarily need advanced technology to trick us. But the possibilities to manipulate voice, video, and faces in such a way that it is impossible to distinguish fake from real are increasing.

Is the sender of communication still who he or she says they are? Is it a human being or a computer? Is the voice original or imitated and does it seem lifelike? The article Synthesizing Obama from the University of Washington explains how real and fake are becoming increasingly difficult to disassemble. Original images and texts are used as a basis to create a computer-generated synthetic version of Obama that can then put any words in his mouth.

From a technological point of view, imitations of real people are becoming increasingly lifelike. Cloning your voice using online tools such as Lyrebird, Voicepods or Deep Voice has become easier and easier. Live images can now be projected in real time in virtual spaces. Soon, vloggers will no longer have to leave their homes. Ami Yamato is a confusing example of how real and fake can be confused. Yamato’s video channel is hence called “videos that confuse people”. You can clearly see that the vlogger is an animation, but she runs through the streets of London, which are real.

The new standard for lifelike has been set by the agency Magic Leap, which showed the virtual assistant Mica to the world in October 2018, a human avatar who can be admired with augmented reality glasses. Those who put on the augmented reality glasses, entered into space where Mica looks you questioningly in the eyes and suggests certain music, according to your mood. In a remote room, people were given the opportunity to sit one on one with Mica at the table. Although Mica didn’t speak, she could make it clear what she wanted. There was a picture frame on the table, and with a few hand gestures, it was made clear that it had to be hung on the wall. As soon as the bare frame hung from a nail, Mica touched it with a finger and the famous painting Ceci n’est pas une pipe by the Belgian artist Magritte appeared, illustrating that nothing is what it seems. Gigglingly Mica then took the pipe from the painting, stuck it in her mouth and disappeared behind a wall.

The unambiguous reality seems to be a thing of the past now that fake news is proving to be an extremely powerful digital supplement. New opportunities are emerging in this respect. A news video is not just reality, nor is video calling with a human face. Influencers on Instagram appear to have been generated by the computer, but this does not result in a loss of followers. What is digital and what is not, what is real and what is fake is smoothly interwoven. Distortion and simulation of voices, images, and faces can be made terrifyingly real with the help of artificial intelligence. What happens in the end when we no longer know whether what we see or hear is authentic, when we can no longer distinguish between real and fake? Will the synthetic generation find the answers to these problems?

A simple post-realistic approach is to join the synthetic reality of this generation. They are also on YouTube and Instagram and your presence there is a simple stepping stone. As a spectator and actor, this generation knows the tricks of the trade of influencers and therefore easily pierces through facades. Put more plainly: they have developed a decent bullshit detector. This applies to both the media and the message.

To know more about the Synthetic Generation, download the latest report here.

Sander Duivestein

About

Sander Duivestein (1971) is a highly acclaimed and top-rated trendwatcher, an influential author, an acclaimed keynote speaker, a digital business entrepreneur, and a strategic advisor on disruptive innovations. His main focus is the impact of new technologies on people, businesses and society.

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