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The Future of Faces

These days, everyone from Microsoft to ILM to Electronic Arts is trying to make computer-generated human faces look more realistic. But Clive Thompson, writing in Slate, argues that video-game developers should aim to make characters less realistic, not more. As…

These days, everyone from Microsoft to ILM to Electronic Arts is trying to make computer-generated human faces look more realistic. But Clive Thompson, writing in Slate, argues that video-game developers should aim to make characters less realistic, not more. As digital faces get closer to photorealism, he says, they look creepier and creepier–and less engaging.

I agree with the creepy part. Most CG faces lack the soft wrinkles and subtle expressions of the real thing, so they don’t look alive. But that’s with today’s technology. In five years, game graphics will be where movies are today. You’ll be able to interact in real time with characters as compelling as Gollum and 100 Agent Smiths. (These movie characters look good because they are based on real footage of real actors, processed by immense computers.)

Depending on whom you ask, researchers have already done 80 to 99 percent of the work necessary to make CG humans indistinguishable from real ones. Only that last bit remains. So what are we afraid of? That they’ll never get there–or that they will?

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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