by Holyn Kanake, @kanakhey

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí, 1931.

The Persistence of Memory, Salvador Dalí, 1931.

I distinctly remember the first time I saw Salvador Dalí's The Persistence of Memory. I was caught in this imaginary universe—a true contemplation of the relativity of space and time. Dalí expertly created an extended reality, a dream-state that seemed almost impossible ... until now.

Synthetic media will create an extended reality in the next decade. One that will deploy technology in new ways, transform consumer behaviors, and introduce new business models.

What is synthetic media?

Synthetic media is algorithmically created or modified video, images, audio, or combined media . The pernicious forms of this media are eloquently called deepfakes.

Technically speaking, synthetic media leverages generative adversarial networks (GANs). In this deep learning, unsupervised machine learning technique, there are two networks essentially battling one another to create new or altered media (data). One generates the synthetic media while the other tries to discriminate the authenticity of the media. To generate the most realistic media, GANs must learn to generate any distribution of data in an undetectable manner. This framework was proposed by Ian Goodfellow and other researchers in 2014.

Current state

Since 2014, researchers and engineers have created synthetic media in the form of audio, video, and images. The last year has seen the rise of media that synthesizes both video and audio, images and audio, and even video and text. It still takes technical skill to produce synthetic media and the output is often imperfect; however, the technology is moving quickly and soon real media will be indistinguishable from synthetically produced media.

This rapid progress recently detailed by Benjamin Goggin. Synthetic media has come far from it's mainstream origins on Reddit in 2017. Research is moving even faster, but government and tech policies are still catching up to the impact this emerging technology.

Recent research

Recent policy developments


<aside> 📜 There have been four state bills introduced in the US to combat synthetic media in California, Texas, New York, and Massachusetts. The bill in California failed to pass while others are still pending. Those against these bills argue that they infringe on civil rights, particularly free speech.