If you’ve ever read Neal Stephenson’s postcyberpunk epic The Diamond Age, you’ll know there’s a moment where a young actress pays several years’ salary for a surgery. It places millions of dots at spots on her skin—dots that would allow computers to track the intricacies of expression in a digital realm, to allow her to act as any avatar.
Clouds, an experimental film by James George and Jonathan Minard, shows that Stephenson’s vision of the future was a bit wrong. Now we can create detailed, 3-D avatars with just a Kinect, a stock SLR camera and a bit of custom post production—no cybernetic tattoos required. (If the project looks familiar, it’s because the team shared their technique on a Reddit AMA a few months back.)
But to me, the video itself is fascinating for reasons beyond the animation. As blackness melds into dots and dots form into mesh and mesh forms into skin, you realize what Clouds is really about: programming as creation. The digital realm is one where Man becomes god, or as the very first line in the piece sums the idea up so well: "With programming, you can do whatever you want. At some point…it’s I wouldn’t say biblical, but it’s like, there’s nothing in the beginning…and you can start throwing things in there."
At the same time, being a god is about more than the power to create. Clouds is also about the ability to understand massive amounts of information, translating millions of discrete points into something meaningful—whether that’s the figures of business men in a 3-D teleconference or a better fluid simulation—and recognizing that translation as mind-expanding omniscience.
It’s just a few minutes long, but Clouds touches upon some transcendent ideas on the future, a future where humanity can actually become something larger than a 140-character pun.
As for Neal Stephenson’s remarkable predictions about the Internet and nanotech, Clouds proves that he did get one thing wrong: There will be no tattooing of dots on the faces of our most famous actors. We’ll be gods in the digital realm before being slaves to an analog one. But as for those dots themselves? Yeah..he was REALLY right about needing all those dots:
[Hat tip: The Creators Project]