Living In A New World

My wife and I have been watching BoJack Horseman, an animated series about a horse who was a famous actor in a 90’s sitcom called“Horsin’ Around.” In one story line, BoJack landed a lead role in a movie about his hero, Secretariat, but wigged out in the middle of filming and disappeared.When he came back, months later, no one was mad. They had enough footage to create a virtual version of him and they were able to finish the movie. Ironically that virtual performance got him nominated for an Oscar, raising the question of whether he – or the computer programmers – had done that Academy-level acting.

Funny, right? Couldn’t happen in real life?

Take a look at the picture below:


None of these people exist. A computer took images of multiple people and created new people, none of whom look like any of their source images.

Next, watch this video (warning: some strong language):

Finally, watch what one dad with VFX skills and some free time can do with videos of his son:

Again, not a whole Hollywood studio; one guy with some free time.

Combine these tools and you can have anyone, real or imagined, do anything at all in pictures or on videos. And it will be essentially impossible to tell what’s real and what’s fake.

The terror of that situation aside, I have two take aways for educators.

First: Media literacy, an essential but often over looked life skill, has never been more important than it is right now. A picture no longer says a thousand words. Images and videos can be falsified with ease, making it imperative that students – and all of us – have the skills to discern fact from fiction in order to look for the provenance of the visuals that we see. (As an aside, I would hate to be a lawyer and have to deal with this as it relates to admissible evidence…)

Second: We can easily see how far, and how quickly tech has advanced in film and photography. It’s much harder to see the effects of similar tech developments in other fields like healthcare or manufacturing. However, the effects have been just as dramatic. Think about advances in automated driving, and what that could do to the trucking industry in the next five to ten years (remembering that there are 3.5 million truckers in the US and 8.7 million in the industry overall). Technology’s relentless and speedy advancement is upending just about every industry, and we aren’t talking about it nearly enough.

A gloomy note before the holiday break – but hopefully the down time will give us the space to really dive into the issue and start thinking about a positive approach once we return.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education. 

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