Posted on: June 16, 2020 Posted by: belle Comments: 0
Ghostly images appear in video stills

If you fancy doing some home-grown ghost hunting then the Reality Ripple Lens on TikTok might just be the tool you’re looking for. Initially intended to draw a psychedelic halo around people as they danced, it seems to have the unknown side-effect of accidentally opening a portal the beyond.

I first noticed the occasional video popping up a few months ago – people scanning around their room and jumping when something rippled in the darkness. I’ve noticed recently the videos have become more frequent and their creativity has also increased as more talented folk add artistic licence to the legend.

So what’s going on? It can be hard to get any visibility inside corporations in China. I don’t think it’s always necessarily because of any grand secrecy on behalf of the Chinese Government, but rather the language barrier means a lack of the usual litany of smaller articles analysing the tech that you would normally see written by trade publication and niche journalists.

Add to that the sheer volume of effects created by TikTok and it’s difficult to identify exactly what’s going on behind the scenes with the Reality Ripple effect. TikTok create all their filters in-house and we know that their parent company ByteDance is heavily invested in AI and Augmented Reality mapping technology. In 2016 they teamed up with Peking University to create Xiaomingbot – an artificial intelligence trained to write news articles.

In reality what you’re looking at with TikTok filters is a highly resourced facility with the ability to create and iterate dozens of tiny AI experiments every month, with a userbase of millions ready and willing train and test those experiments. Their capacity to advance technologically is really only limited by how creative they can be marketing the filters.

So – Reality Ripple. There are two clear explanations for what’s going on with our ghostly sightings:

One: they have been faked. This is certainly true of some of the more narrative focused videos I’ve seen. When you look through the creators other videos they tend to demonstrate basic video editing and really the colour effect itself is not terribly hard to re-create in Adobe After Effects. As someone who loves the classic history of arcane fakery, I truly applaud these folks. Fakery is an artform in itself and when well done should be admired as much as the original.

Two: AI’s just aren’t that good yet. Computers are learning very quickly but they still have not quite got the hang of the finer details. Teaching a computer to recognise humans based on the millions of variants that define us is an exhausting task – especially combined with the addition of  all the variants to those rules (such as makeup, changing clothes, different races, different hairstyles, birth defects, amputations… just to name a few).

a ghostly figure appears to be sitting in a chair

So it’s much easier to just explain that a human is basically a ball on a rectangle with noodles on the sides. To make sure the effect works for as many people as possible you could imagine that it would start with an ideal set of rules for finding people, and then if it can’t find an obvious subject, it should start relaxing those rules till something appears. This would explain how it would trigger on a hoodie lying on the floor (ball, rectangle, noodles). Think about all those times you’ve had a google CAPTCHA where you have to select all the crosswalks – event humans get really broad definitions when forced find something in an unclear image.

BUT if we put on our tinfoil hats for a moment – there’s also no real evidence that it’s *not* spotting ghosts. We know that phone cameras see a wider spectrum of light than our eyes, including the infrared band – a frequency commonly investigated for paranormal activity. We also know that one of the advantages of AI is that it sticks to the rules without bringing in cultural perceptions or learned restrictions. If you don’t teach it that ghosts aren’t real then it’s not going to blink when Casper wanders into frame. So for the moment, unless we get a chance to review the code behind the technology, then there’s no real way to know.

Happy Ghost Hunting folks!

Person in sheet running past the camera