Monday, January 24, 2011

Shadow Puppets

I came up with this idea while trying to invent a hacker game setting, and I thought it was an interesting thought experiment. So here's the deal:

Imagine that in the future, we have software that can analyze audio and video (and writing and pictures). By analyzing the media, the software can program a virtual entity with a personality and appearance very similar to the writer/actor/whoever is in the media you passed it.

The virtual entity is quite advanced. Assuming you have a good computer and the most recent pseudo-AI drivers, the virtual entity is almost indistinguishable from the original, at least in the context of media. The gaps in the seed media are overcome by careful guessing. That mean the virtual entity can act very reasonably even in situations not covered by the seed media.

In the game world I designed, problems arose when people began creating virtual entities of politicians and releasing very convincing fake videos of them saying or doing things they never did or said. It came to a head with a bevy of fake-porn cases in which the real versions of the virtual porn stars launched a whole lot of lawsuits for everything from character defamation to abuse.

The courts came up with a rather novel solution. Which, I guess, is the most fantastical part of this setting. It's called the "virtual volition" rule.

Basically, the courts ruled that everyone had the right to personal privacy. The programs were considered to breach that privacy by simulating that person's behavior and body in a way they did not approve. This was considered fundamentally different than drawing cartoons or even photoshopping lewd pictures because of the extremely high fidelity and accuracy of the virtual entities.

The misused virtual entities were labeled "shadow puppets" - programs that looked so much like specific real world individuals that they violated the privacy of those real world individuals. Shadow puppets became illegal. Later, the definition expanded to include virtual entities in breach of copyright, such as one fed on Mickey Mouse cartoons that looks and acts like Mickey Mouse.

Of course, it's impossible to ban a piece of software like this. Legal, open source software could be fed with publicly available media to produce a high-fidelity shadow puppet. Still, don't get caught: it's considered abuse or assault on the person being simulated.

Legal virtual entities abounded. Many simply were unrealistic, or a mishmash of media that didn't attempt to simulate any one person. Others were specific people or cartoons or whatever, but had very strict limits and would refuse to "fill in" the gaps and act beyond the "volition lock". IE, you couldn't convince your official Steven Fry virtual entity to strip down and sing show tunes.

In the game world, it had tons of ramifications and made the world a very complex place.

Anyway, there's not really any point to this essay. It's just a random interesting thing I thought I'd mention.


Kevin said...

Makes me think of Geordi creating a hologram of the Enterprise designer.

Craig Perko said...

Yes, that's an excellent example! Although done without malice (and largely by accident), it was still a violation of privacy.

Ensis Draconis said...

Interesting. I like it.