Weekly obsessions: our take on what's big in tech
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    It's an understatement to say it's been a big week in tech – there's the CGI in Avengers: Infinity War, Instagram drama involving supposed artificial intelligence and more. Here are the weekly obsessions of our Science and Tech writers:

    Visual effects need a physiological overhaul

    With the premiere of “Avengers: Infinity War," superhero thrills continue their onslaught against the wallets of moviegoers the world over. One of the most hyped aspects of the movie is without a doubt the visual effects. But for a movie that reportedly cost $300 million, will there be enough bang for the big bucks?

    Computer-generated imagery, or CGI, has allowed filmmakers to create movies fit to their imaginations, and thus most big blockbusters today are full of it. However, the use of CGI has led to an oversaturation of visual effects on the silver screen. Even though computers are continuously advancing and new techniques are being developed to improve CGI, the human eye can only absorb so much visual stimuli. When a movie screen is filled with effects – no matter how spectacular and expensive – it can overwhelm the senses and reduce the overall efficacy. A great example? The Transformers movies – there are so many effects happening concurrently that the appreciation of each element of CGI is diminished.

    Clearly, great visual effects attract moviegoers and the technology will continue to improve as technology advances, but it is critical that production companies start to consider this issue. They need to focus on respecting the threshold of visual stimuli that humans can handle before it becomes overwhelming or lest we have more situations like The Hobbit, whose audience members experienced physical discomfort and nausea. That's not what a moviegoer wants from their theater experience.

    - Ryan Wagner

    Who is Miquela Sousa?

    I would like to know. What ~I think~ I know for sure is that she is the personality behind a popular Instagram account with over one million followers. She's been posting modeling photos under the handle @lilmiquela for two years and has even released singles on Spotify. She has championed LGBTQ+ rights and Black Lives Matter.

    Here's the catch – the photos of her posted on her account look heavily edited, and people have commented to that end often, saying things like, "You're very pretty, but we all know these photos are digitally enhanced on a massive scale, be yourself."

    Well, this week, the account posted a series of screenshots of text saying that Miquela is an artificial intelligence.



    The story goes that Miquela was created by a company called Cain Intelligence, but she was rescued from them by another company called Brud when they learned that Cain planned to use her as a servant and sex object. Brud told Miquela that she was created based on the life and mind of a human by the name of Miquela Sousa.

    But some things don't add up. First of all, Cain Intelligence is reported to be not real. They do have a website, but we all know that in this day and age that doesn't mean anything definitive.

    So what really is going on? Is Miquela really an AI?

    I don't know what to think. It's hard for me to believe this story, because I didn't think that artificial intelligence could be so advanced. Or is it all some elaborate tale? I guess that remains to be seen.

    - Carlyn Kranking

    A post shared by *~ MIQUELA ~* (@lilmiquela) on

    Full statement link in bio.

    A post shared by Brud (@brud.fyi) on

    What makes me human?

    No one has ever definitively concluded what seperates humans from animals and machines, but some have argued that a starting point is recognizing the low correlation between what "comes naturally" and what is distinctively valuable to us. To that end, just because something isn't hardwired into human DNA doesn't make it an intrinsically un-human pursuit. Indeed, to equate naturalness with value fails to recognize that a number of "human" pursuits typically taught to children don't actually come naturally – take reading or arithmetic, for example.

    In addition to the various definitions of what counts as "natural," there can also be differing conceptions of what counts as intrinsically human. Pre-Industrial humans, for instance, might have thought that sewing was an intrinsically human activity since only a human could sew clothes. Arguably, the only reason contemporary humans do not think of sewing as a fundamentally human activity is that there are machines that can do it much better than us.

    Given the dawn of artificial intelligences that can do many tasks previously only doable by us, we should give second thoughts to the notion of what counts as human. If a computer can drive a car much better than a human can – and this is probably already the case – why should we think of driving a car as a fundamentally human activity? While this may be a rather difficult conclusion for our generation to accept, I'm convinced that our grandchildren will look back on the era in which humans drove cars as a bizarre, dangerous era in history, just as we look back on the era in which smoking cigarettes was mainstream.

    - Jasper Gilley


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