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Faking it deeply and universally? Media forms and epistemologies of artificial faces and emotions in Japanese and Euro-American contexts

Author: Bächle, T. C.
Published in: Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 0(0), 1-23
Year: 2022
Type: Academic articles
DOI: 10.1177/13548565221122909

Attempts to visually represent the human face in various media forms have a long history. Fairly recent examples can be found in techniques that are used in animated films and video games (performance capture) or in the controversial phenomenon of “deep fakes”. The article looks at the relationship between faces, the media forms that are used for their representation and simulation and the knowledge that is (re)produced about emotions and their communicative effects. It reveals a peculiar contradiction: the quest to create a synthetic digital face that would be universally recognisable in terms of emotional readability and response homogenises our understanding of emotion while disguising the challenging cultural barriers to this recognisability. The simulated face caters to a two-fold and hence paradoxical aesthetic aspiration that places it between uniqueness and universality. By elaborating on the somatic, affective dimension of communication via faces, the article compares culturally specific modes of producing and reading emotions. A Euro-American tradition of thought regards them as artefacts, constructed as antagonists of rationality, that can be controlled and objectively modelled and measured. The idea of the face as the locus of emotions, which can be represented in distinct expressions, contrasts with more ambiguous and relational meanings in East Asian, particularly Japanese contexts. The epistemological genealogy of the facial display of emotions, however, does not conform to a clear West/East divide and is at the same time highly interwoven with specific media forms of their representation. In order to deepen this dynamic understanding of artificial faces, the article looks at different examples of Japanese traditions and art forms. Examples such as portraiture and photography, the subtle illusions created in Nō theatre and the less subtle ones evoked by robotic faces shed a light on the complex meanings but also the affective reactions to artificial faces.

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Connected HIIG researchers

Thomas Christian Bächle, Dr.

Head of research programme: The evolving digital society

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Research issue in focus

Du siehst Eisenbahnschienen. Die vielen verschiedenen Abzweigungen symbolisieren die Entscheidungsmöglichkeiten von Künstlicher Intelligenz in der Gesellschaft. Manche gehen nach oben, unten, rechts. Manche enden auch in Sackgassen. Englisch: You see railway tracks. The many different branches symbolise the decision-making possibilities of artificial intelligence and society. Some go up, down, to the right. Some also end in dead ends.

Artificial intelligence and society

The future of artificial Intelligence and society operates in diverse societal contexts. What can we learn from its political, social and cultural facets?