As far as AI-animated images go, the technology behind these Harry Potter-esque photos isn’t particularly complex.
Users are invited to supply old photos of their loved ones, and the program uses deep learning to apply predetermined movements to their facial features. It also makes up for little moments that aren’t in the original photo, like the reveal of teeth or the side of a head. Together it creates, if not an entirely natural effect, than a deeply arresting one.
We rely on perception and emotion
Fascinating — and yes, a little frightening.
“Indeed, the results can be controversial and it’s hard to stay indifferent to this technology,” their FAQ page reads.
When it’s a beloved relative occupying that almost-but-not-quite space in reality, the parts of our brain that love and fear are pitted against each other, even if we know full well that what we’re looking at isn’t real.
“The way our brain processes images of people is different than inanimate objects. It taps into neural circuitry,” Farid says. “For years we have been able to synthesize inanimate objects, and that completely fools the visual system because we don’t have preconceived notions of how they move. But when it comes to humans, it is lagging. Part of that is the subtle way we move and recognize these movements.”
AI relies on data and rules
Those kinds of applications are courting a similar kind of human connection as Deep Nostalgia. But the fact is, there’s nothing human about artificial intelligence.
Farid is careful to point out that machine learning, which is what drives more widely available animation technologies like Deep Nostalgia, is a field within the greater world of artificial intelligence. Machine learning pores over data and finds patterns. While a program may get better with more input, there isn’t any intelligence or analysis involved in the way it applies these patterns.
There are many applications that benefit greatly from this type of data.
“When you’re predicting the stock market, you want patterns,” Farid offers as an example. “Or doing cancer diagnoses. I don’t need to understand at the moment why cancer shows up, I just want to know if it does.”
When applied to more human pursuits, the lack of, well, intelligence shows through.
The smiling faces of our ancestors, though touching, naturally don’t hold up once we drop our suspension of disbelief.
Those inconsistencies, however, will lessen as the technology develops, and Farid says the time has come for companies to look critically at the ethical implications of using them.
“The tech sector has done things because they can and not because they should,” he says. “We need to stop building things because they’re cool and start asking these hard questions before it’s too late.”
Before, say, the technology gets so good that our emotions are able to override our keen senses of perception.
In the future, perhaps another program will be able to fill in those gaps, and we’ll be able to see, hear and converse with those long lost to us. Such technology will present stunning challenges to our security and our sense of reality as we know it.
But when it’s smiling at us through the comforting faces of our dearest loved ones, it will be that much harder to resist.