Decades ago, people had a choice of cloth fibers like cotton, wool and silk. Each of these natural cloths had positive attributes … as well as negative ones, too.
Cotton is comfortable to wear, but wrinkles when washed. Wool is great for the cold weather months, but needs to be dry-cleaned. Too, moths and other insects love to burrow their way through woolen clothing, making many an item made from wool ready for the trash far too soon.
Silk? It has all the detriments of cotton and wool without any of the positives — except that it looks rich and expensive if one wishes to put on airs or otherwise “make a statement.”
Beginning in the 1940s, polyesters and other synthetic fibers were introduced, giving rise to all sorts of new clothing items that touted a variety of positive attributes: They washed up fine, didn’t need ironing, and kept their shape over time.
Never mind the fact that the clothing didn’t breathe, and made more than a few people stink to the heavens after wearing a synthetic cloth shirt for barely an hour on a hot summer day.
Along these same lines, today we have synthetic media. It’s essentially how people and machines are collaborating to create media that is algorithmically created (or modified).
In its earliest incarnations, synthetic media was a blend of “real” and “faux” components. Think of a newscast with your favorite, very real anchor person … but the background, screens and graphics are computer-generated.
But things have gone much further than that in recent times. Text, photography and videos are being created by software with such precision and seeming authenticity that it’s nearly impossible to determine what content is “real” versus what has been “synthesized.”
On the plus side, content can be automatically translated and delivered in multiple languages to different audiences spanning the world, bringing more news and information to more people simultaneously. But what if the avatar (host) could be customized to be more “familiar” to different audiences — and therefore more engaging and believable to them?
There’s a flipside to all of this innovation. So-called “deepfakes” (a recent term that took no time at all to be added to the major dictionary databases) harness digital technology to superimpose faces onto video clips in ways that are so realistic, they appear to be totally authentic.
Considering the advances in the technology, one can only imagine the plethora of “news” items that will be unleashed into cyberspace and on social media platforms in the coming months and years. Most likely, they’ll have the effect of making more than a few people suspicious of all news and information — regardless of the source.
Which brings us back to synthetic fabrics. They’re with us and always will be; there’s no turning back from them. But people have learned how to use them for what makes sense, and eschew the rest. We need to figure out how to do the same with synthetic media.