A digital April Fools’ Day
In the era of digital verisimilitude, every day is a potential April Fools’ Day. Here’s the latest tumble down the rabbit hole (or stumble through Plato’s Cave, if you prefer).
Researchers from Max Planck Institute for Informatics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and Stanford University have invented Face2Face - software which can map one person’s face talking, precisely and indistinguishably, onto the face of another person.
Want to make Putin pout, Trump grump (not hard) and Obama lose his preternatural cool? This tech is an obvious gift to TV satirists - but once it becomes the inevitable smart phone app, Face2Face will be yet another tool for foolery in our hands.
The enduring joy of an April fool, of course, is that its simulation of reality fully takes in the gullible - with no real harm done. One of the earliest on record was on 1 April 1698, where some subjects were tricked into visiting the Tower of London to "see the lions washed”.
You don’t need wireframes and texture mapping to lead people into the full blush of foolishness. But it can help. Tech giants embrace this day with great gusto. I particularly enjoyed last year’s announcement of PlayStation Flow (“we’re taking gaming out of the living room…and into the swimming pool”). It was all the more effective for actually being pretty desirable. Watch out today for tech announcements that seem just too user-friendly to be true.
Modern digital marketing exults in foolery. In November, the wires were glowing with news of a new social-meetup app called Rumblr (“It’s Tinder for fighting…An app for recreational fighters to find, meet and fight other brawl enthusiasts nearby…Tell your match what you don’t like about their picture.”) Thankfully, this was a launch stunt by a start-up agency - but it caused the required fuss.
Simulating reality, and only letting on halfway through the process, can be an instructive tactic in the armoury of speculative design. In the first FutureFest in 2013, the games and theatre company Coney set up three plausible sounding, Shoreditch-based digital outfits, under the title FuturePlay, with audiences invited to witness their presentations. And then, things started to unravel…with the operating assumptions of digital capitalism laid fascinatingly bare by the Coney performers.
As the curator of the future play theme for the forthcoming FutureFest event in September, I can’t give too much away at this stage. But it might be fair to say that our emphasis this year will be much more about the digital augmentation of human powers and potentials, rather than digital manipulation of human gullibility and appetite for the real. (But then I would say that. Wouldn’t I.)
Today’s the day - so stay alert. Or perhaps better, allow yourself to succumb to the endless contemporary possibilities that our picture of reality can be ever so slightly (and infuriatingly) bent. And if you want to get your own back…well, every day’s a potential April Fools' Day in the digital era.
FutureFest runs 17-18 September 2016. Early bird weekend tickets are now on sale.