The Talking Mona Lisa

Back in December, I wrote a post about software that creates entirely new people from images of others, and the kinds of video effects people could make with some fairly standard off-the-shelf software. Bear with me for one more in this line.

Today it’s a new technology that can create video of people talking, all by sampling just a handful of photos – or even a single photo – to make a very believable experience (click here to watch a short video about this new technology). Some of the examples are downright scary, such as taking a single historical photo, or even a painting, to generate a video of that person saying whatever it is you program them to say. (They do it with the Mona Lisa in the video, hence the title of this post.) What’s scarier is that someone can log onto your social media account, download a handful of selfies, and create a completely believable video of you doing whatever they want.

Two things strike me about this.

On the education front, this screams out to me about the need for relevance. In terms of relevance with students, we need to remember that young people’s worlds are absolutely, completely different than the worlds we adults grew up in. If we’re going to connect with them, we have to understand what that reality is like and speak to it. In terms of instructional relevance, we need to remember that every industry – not just media – is seeing sweeping changes, and it’s up to us to stay current and keep instruction aligned with the reality that students will see when they enter their fields of choice.

Second, it feels like we’re moving into a post-truth environment. I know that sounds weird, but think about it: All of the things we were raised to trust can now be faked. Anyone can produce professional looking documents, and the resources we all used are now online, like the transition of the encyclopedia to Wikileaks (which is widely known to be changed by advocates, partisans, and corporate PR folks to suit their views). Pictures, which used to be worth a thousand words, are now raw footage for Photoshop wizards and video evidence can now easily be faked. Watch this video, supposedly from President Obama and tell me if you would have believed it if it hadn’t been flagged as a phony. In this kind of environment, skepticism is needed and media literacy – an essential life skill – is critically important. So please do what you can to help students build their internal filters and learn the critical thinking skills they’ll need to survive in the world.

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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