A Machine to Steal Souls

I quite like this :

It’s an AR thing for removing brands from your field of vision. Unfortunately you have to wear a preposterous hat, but that will change – assuming google glassholism finds another lease of life elsewhere, or the tech becomes so small that it is essentially invisible.

I like the idea of removing adverts tho – but not as much as the idea of removing other people – completely. This would be especially popular on public transport I think. Especially in London. It’s Other People that make public transport a nightmare. Edit them out, and things would improve dramatically. A panacea for high-density living.

That is not the holy grail of this stuff though.

The holy grail is not to subtract people from a scene, it’s to add them.

The holy grail is to be able to use a scan of a person as a texture map, superimposed over performances from an movement-animation database… so basically you can take any actor and superimpose them into any role. Double Holy Grail: candid live-capture of texture maps, and movement-tracking. Stealing people to use in your own movies in other words.

There’s a face-only example of this from about 6 years ago:

And a cellphone app


the quality of which is impossibly bad, but is kindof headed in the right direction. A couple of animated versions have turned up recently…

Yup – little Manga chicks. By now you ought to know where this one’s heading.

But anyway – I had a go on an Occulus Rift (belatedly, for the first time) the other day, in this great big advert for Air New Zealand, masquerading as a museum exhibit


and while the quality isn’t anywhere near good enough to steal the collective soul of an entire generation of the human race yet, you can kindof see that one day it probably will.

For the last 50 odd years we’ve been entranced by oblongs of flickering lights… the size of a… well, the size of a television basically. I’m looking at one now. You’re looking at one now… assuming you’re not using a phone. VR is something else altogether. It’s dimensionally bigger. On the outside you might be sitting there with a mask on, but on the inside you’re in a whole new world – it’s like havin a tardis inside your head.

I think the challenge of creating content for these things is going to bigger than creating the tech to run it on. I mean basically the tech is an exercise in surfing the Moore’s Law of screen resolution to the point where “retina level” can be squeezed into something that fits on the inside of a pair of glasses.

Making content is something else altogether. It will need special cameras (eg)



But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that, because it’s highly likely that POV for each character in a scene (as well as eye of god) will be required.

And 2D Cinema has a whole set of fairly complex and subtle grammatical rules that are required to direct attention and tell stories. That’s the reason Hitchcock is still taught at film-school… he discovered most of them. In fact the art of cinema is in large part, all about directing attention. With VR this kindof goes out the window. Although it’s tempting to imagine transposing cinema onto VR, it’s a totally different medium.

I mean check out the end of Good/Bad/Ugly

Far too slow-moving to get away with today, but it’s the ancestor of every cinematic mexican standoff since (see Tarantino etc), and it’s ALL about telling the viewer where to look. I can’t imagine how you’d do something like this in VR, where the audience is free to wander off and look at a bush or something. There’s a whole new landscape of grammar that will need to be discovered.

So that’s going to be a challenge… but it’s going to be overcome, and my prediction is that fairly soon, the tech will evolve to the point people are going to go into this thing and never come out. It’s going to be a lot more interesting and engaging than people’s real lives, especially when combined with digitally addicting material like games or porn… or P2P consequence-free socialising.

I don’t think it will ever get to the point where people literally can’t tell the difference (as in various movies etc), but it will very rapidly get to the point (5 years – the scifi near-event-horizon) where people don’t care. The Cloud is going to host ecosystems of complex algorithms competing for attention, with natural-selection mechanisms constantly honing and improving their ability to suck people in.

The really big things that happen tend to be things that (virtually) nobody sees coming – eg: the contraceptive pill, cars, television, social-media etc… and we’re only just starting the 21st C. Imagine this is someone in 1914… talking authoritatively about “the twentieth century”… man, you have absolutely no idea what’s coming down the hall… so here we are in 2014… still guessing. I’d put money on VR hosting some monster that totally changes humanity though. Hard to imagine it being good – I mean what it kindof does is suck people out of their real worlds, and puts them somewhere artificial. In a way it edits them out of reality.


It is a perfect fit with Favela Chic though.

2 Comments » for A Machine to Steal Souls
  1. Patrick says:

    Good Goddess but that first one is a little too close to the Black Mirror Christmas Special (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDFcTmdQqIc) for comfort. Being in NZ I don’t know if you saw it or heard of it, but it was darkly amazing.

  2. Alex Funke, ASC says:

    Great showdown, but i would say that for ‘directing the eye’ the showdown between Bronson and Fonda at the end of Once Upon a Time in the West beats it.

    Hooray foe Genomicon!!! Alex