Friday, August 10, 2018

Update on Saya, the CGI Japanese girl, and my doomsday predictions

I wanted to share some updated photos of the CGI creation "Saya" and spew some predictions about what this kind of tech means.


Not related to Korea at all, but you might remember way back in 2015 reading some news about a CGI-rendered fictional Japanese girl called "Saya," created by your typical wacky Japanese couple. Her photos were pretty impressive back then for their realism.

"Saya" by Telyuka

When the couple first posted pictures of the hyper-realistic schoolgirl online last year, it was a revelation about what can be achieved with computer design.
Her slightly askew school tie, heavily fringed hair, freckled skin and teenage pout left thousands trying to work out whether or not she was a real person.
Saya: Big ambitions for Japanese 'digital daughter' - BBC News

At the time there was a video too showing some of her gesture and movement, and while the still images looked impressive, once you saw "her" move you could tell right away it was computer animated. Check out the end of this video:

Now if you're like me, it popped up in your usual feeds and that was that. You never heard from "her" again. And in fact a quick Google search didn't seem to bring up any new articles about her since then.

Saya 2017

But then this morning I came across an article from September of last year in the Korean version of HuffPo [CG로 만든 이 소녀가 이번에는 아이돌 오디션에 출전했다(동영상)] with an update that looks pretty incredible. 

I don't know about you, but this would 100% fool me into thinking this was just a fan meeting or a photo shoot for some young actress. Hard to believe this person never existed in the first place.

Here's the updated promo video where these gifs are taken from, with features some up close facial shots and, importantly, another scene of "her" walking which looks way smoother now and much more natural. It also includes an English introduction:

Predictions: this is gonna be bad

Even though we still get a lot of crappy CGI in major movies, it seems like we've really made it out of the uncanny valley, at least with potential VR. I'm not sure if that's such a good thing, to be real with you. We all saw that funny Obama fake video that shows just how easy it's going to be to fabricate video now:

Even though I'm definitely a pro-tech guy and no Luddite, I don't see any good coming out of this kind of tech. In fact I'm worried that it will make certain things really easy that shouldn't be done at all, like

  1. Allow pedos to "indulge" their sick desires without "harming" anyone. If you look at a little kid and get horny, I don't care if you don't act on it or not. You're already seriously messed up and getting some kind of "release" from having your way with Saya or whatever younger model they come up with isn't going to do you or society any favors.
  2. Make people you know in real life appear to do anything. Think that old guy on the bus looked good? Scan him with your Google Glass Lens whatever before you get off (no pun intended) and paste his 3D face on top of any 'Hub video you like. We're seeing this already with DeepFakes with celebrities but eventually it will be just a few taps from being applied to anyone. That includes your Facebook friends. I'm sure Facebook's tagged photos database already has plenty of models to apply a friend to do any movement or gesture. Facebook already suggested they can find your face inside videos. Next step: put your face in the video. Best case scenario: You can lie to your friends and "prove" that you really were at that party after all. Worst case: creep makes a nasty video of school friend killing a cat or something, spreads it around the school, kid gets outcast, maybe suicide, who knows. And not to blame Facebook, but Apple's iPhone X FaceID essentially builds a (lower resolution) 3D model of your face. All this tech that used to be for Lord of the Rings level budgets is going to explode with consumers. 
  3. End of video evidence. Related to #2, why accept any video evidence in court now if it could be doctored or faked easily? Can we really rely on that CCTV video showing Person A stabbing and robbing Person B? A good defense lawyer would only have to get the jury to feel a "reasonable doubt," not prove that it's a fake or not. Especially in Korea, where CCTV is so prevalent and leads to so many captured crooks, is this a road we want to go down? 
  4. No choice. Once this gets going, we won't have a choice whether to allow this or not. You can opt out on Facebook, for now. But that won't stop someone in public scanning your face. Parents can't stop perverts scanning their kids' faces. At some point we'll walk around in burkas or wearing bizarre laser-blocking masks. Maybe it can be combined with a pollution mask. 
  5. Goodbye, actors. Why deal with the hassle of paid human actors? Whip up some actors of any size and shape on the spot. If they're this photorealistic, who would know, anyway? We need some sort of Turing Test for this: can the average person tell if he/she is watching a real actor in a movie or a CGI creation. Soon we won't know so would it even matter anymore? 
OK, that's enough conspiracy theories from me tonight. Saya is a pretty amazing creation and I was just blown away to see how much more realistic it's become. But on the other hand, sometimes I'm glad I grew up in a world where the coolest, neatest tech was the auto-reverse function on a Walkman. You didn't have to flip the tape, people! 

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