There are two of Isaac Asimov’s books that I’ve mentioned in earlier columns and that are relevant to this blog — The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun (see also Vertical Farming in Caves of Steel and Living in Splendid Self-Isolation). As I noted in the latter column:
The second book is “The Naked Sun,” which forms the sequel to “The Caves of Steel.” In this case, a key protagonist from the first book — a police detective from Earth called Elijah Bailey — travels to Solaria, which is the least populated of the Spacer Worlds. Elijah’s job is to solve a murder, but he quickly runs into problems when he discovers that only 20,000 people live on the planet, each on his or her own estate, where these estates are located as far as possible from each other. The Solarians are taught from birth to avoid personal contact, so all of their interactions are performed using holographic communication systems that make it appear as though they are in the same place.
It was these holographic communications systems that immediately sprang to mind when my chum Jay Dowling pointed me at an interesting column on Gizmodo: Google’s Project Starline Promises to Make Video Calls Frighteningly Realistic by Turning Everyone Into 3D Models.
As this column tells us: “Today, Google revealed a technology that’s not quite ready for prime time but promises to make the other person on a video call seem like they’re sitting right in front of you.” The technology in question is Project Starline.
And, as we read on the Project Starline website: “Imagine looking through a sort of magic window, and through that window, you see another person, life-size and in three dimensions. You can talk naturally, gesture and make eye contact.”
The Starline website continues to say, “To make this experience possible, we are applying research in computer vision, machine learning, spatial audio and real-time compression. We’ve also developed a breakthrough light field display system that creates a sense of volume and depth that can be experienced without the need for additional glasses or headsets. The effect is the feeling of a person sitting just across from you, like they are right there.”
I’ll leave you to read the Gizmodo column, peruse and ponder the Starline website, and watch this video. All I can say is that this looks to be tremendously exciting but… I can’t help but think about things like Deepfake videos (see also A Deepfake Video Never Lies).
What I’m thinking is, if people can use artificial intelligence (AI) to create Deepfake videos, and if they are using AI to create 3D models of people for use in photorealistic video calls, then is there the slightest hint of a sniff of a smidgen of a possibility that some nefarious hacker could hijack your video stream and leave you having a conversation with a 3D model that looks and sounds like your nearest and dearest, but is in fact on a mission to relieve you of credit, your identity, and all your worldly possessions? Of course, everything could work out for the best… couldn’t it?