Industry News [Week of Feb 8 2021]

This is the regular post where I share updates about things happening in gaming, machine learning, audio, or frankly anything that catches my eye and seems relevant to share or discuss here. Let’s hop right in!

Epic Games announced a powerful new tool which utilizes Unreal to allow for deeply realistic human avatar creation. The company’s product page outlines potential use cases for this kind of character creation, and I was surprised to see “recreation of real people” featured so prominently with so little discussion of ethics. This is particularly weird given the general social fears around “deepfakes,” which this sort of tool can be used to substantially improve in many cases. Now, obviously I work at a synthetic media company, so I neither want to fearmonger nor believe this is actually net-negative. But it feels like, even knowing that this tool will be primarily and net positive, there’s an absence here of the deep, careful thinking I’d hope to see from a major organization like Epic around these sorts of tools.

On a similar vein, did you catch the digitally resurrected version of Vince Lombardi mixed in with your Super Bowl commercials? This is a great use case to remind us that synthetic media isn’t inherently good or evil – you can use it for various purposes, just as with all tech. The key is in building the tech such that it’s easiest to do good with it, and those wishing to do evil run into as many barriers and limitations as possible. I’ve spoken with the founders of Respeecher, the audio company involved in this commercial, repeatedly about these kinds of concerns, and I know they are thinking about this as well. Hopefully examples like this help more consumers to shift their thinking from “how do I stop this technology from coming to be” to “how do we take this technology and unbalance it to favor good use cases?”

Finally, in the midst of the ever-growing hubbub around Clubhouse, Mark Cuban has announced the creation of a competitor, Fireside. Clubhouse seems to me to be obviously sustained by a combination of novelty and network effects (the latter of which Clubhouse and its investors have called in every favor in the book to kickstart), so it’s unclear to me how much low-hanging fruit is on the table for Fireside or other apps to grow the same way. More likely, they’ll need to poach folks who like the format but are dissatisfied with the specifics of Clubhouse, meaning competing on features like user safety or modes of dissemination (i.e. recording and playback, or adding text to audio, though Clubhouse would argue the absence of these is an advantage for it, keeping its community more tightly defined.)

That’s all for this week! As always, any thoughts or feedback are welcome. Stay safe, healthy, and sane, all!

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