Earlier this week, The Times reported on a new technology that would increase “blackmail risk from tool that brings selfies to life”.
They were referring to an algorithm developed by Samsung’s AI Centre in Moscow and the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology with the intention to benefit the animation, video games and special effects industries. The benefit comes from the fact that the technology can take a still image and animate it.
The technology works by mapping facial features and matching them to similar faces from a database of more than a million snippets of video footage of 6,112 different people speaking. The system used a giant dataset from Oxford University to learn how faces generally move in conversation.
This technology is better than previous efforts because one of the final stages in its production is to look for frames of the video that look strange before replacing them with a better effort.
Now, I hate selfies. There’s a time and a place for them – the solo traveller, for example. But I remember a few years ago at a football match, Liverpool got a penalty and, instead of watching it, the guy turned around with his back to it, held up his phone, and took a selfie of himself with it in the background. It’s bizarre behaviour.
Not overly bizarre, but I hate a particularly narcissistic element to selfies, when they’re all you see on someone’s social media account, often with a completely unrelated caption. All because they want to use Instagram rather than Twitter because they think they look good.
The final element of selfies I dislike is selfies that aren’t selfies, and how people use the word for any photo of a person now. Back in my day, a selfie was a photo that someone took of themselves while holding the camera. If someone else has taken the photo, it’s quite the opposite of a selfie. Of course, the lines are blurred if you set the timer on a camera before walking in front of it.
So I would ban selfies. I’d ban front facing cameras on phones. They’re unnecessary. However, it’s the last point that I think The Times may have missed because, as the developers have shown, they don’t actually need a selfie – it can be any photo, even a painting.
It’s left me wondering if there’s really a need for this technology in the areas for which it was developed given the downsides. It feels rather innocuous to pose ethical questions, but then I have ethical issues with the still selfie.