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The remarkable case of the nitrogen crisis

What happened?

The lingering nitrogen crisis in the Netherlands is forcing the government to take unpopular and costly measures to reduce nitrogen emissions across the economy. Even though it is not surprising that sustainability has taken center stage in politics, the intriguing aspect is that the wish for sustainable action stems almost exclusively from the rationale of preserving natural habitats and biodiversity. Instead of anthropocentric issues such as human health or green economic growth, this crisis revolves around the intrinsic value of nature.

What does this mean?

As we noted before, sustainable action can be inspired by different rationales. These rationales include concerns over future profitability of a sector (e.g. fishermen deciding to preserve fish stocks), the protection of human health and safety (e.g. in the case of air pollution or climate change), green economic growth (e.g. renewable energy technology) or the desire for a meaningful lifestyle (e.g. sustainable consumption). Each of these rationales somehow ties in with the interests of humankind (e.g. economic growth or feelings of self-worth) and sustainable action can thus be “justified” with relative ease. By contrast, the nitrogen issue appeals to a different kind of rationale, of protecting nature because it has intrinsic value, which is not directly related to human interests (other than upholding the rule of law).

What’s next?

This intrinsic value of nature does not usually garner a lot of political support and this crisis is really an exception to the rule (i.e. it is the result of somewhat naïve policy-making in the past). Moreover, this crisis, and the measures that are introduced, may chip away at support for sustainability in general. That is not to say that the intrinsic value of nature should be negated, but rather that other rationales for sustainable action are politically more powerful and can yield (roughly) the same outcomes for our environment.

Uploading celebrities for eternity

What happened?

The digitization of movie making is taking another step with the digital resurrection of legendary actor James Dean for the upcoming action-drama Finding Jack. The film will use CGI to reconstruct James Dean from old footage whereas another actor will provide the voice. In contrast with movies like Rogue One, Fast & the Furious 7 and Blade Runner 2049 that have also cast digital clones of deceased actors, this movie will star the late actor in a leading role. The movie could potentially become a watershed moment for digital clones if it is able to deliver a compelling performance. On a similar note, several recent movies have applied de-aging techniques, such as Gemini Man, The avengers: end game and the long awaited The Irish Man which premiered last week on Netflix.

What does this mean?

These instances show that Hollywood is increasingly embracing the storytelling opportunities that digital cosmetics and cloning offers. Apart from the creative opportunities, digital clones enable content producers to use famous actors indefinitely and against lower costs and to use digital doubles for all too risky stunt work. Moreover, these endeavors show that scanning-, rendering-, motion-capture technology and AI have reached a level of sophistication in which de-aging and digitally cloning actors have somewhat bridged the so-called uncanny valley.

What’s next?

Because of this, and since actors have become brands of their own, the IP on digital clones of famous actors could become a much sought-after asset. In that vein, CMG Worldwide and Observe Media, the team that is responsible for resurrecting James Dean digitally, are merging to form Worldwide XR, with the goal to produce more digital clone content. Similarly, albeit it in a different industry, Epic Games’ acquisition of Quixel, a company with a large 3D digital asset library, shows that content producers are scrambling to acquire 3D digital assets to prepare for frictionless all-digital content creation. Whereas some believe that digital clones might replace ‘real’ acting altogether, non-digital actors could also become a category in itself, similar to theatre actors, appreciated for its unpolished, ‘in the moment’ quality. Nevertheless, we are bound to see a lot of ethical and artistic discussions surrounding the use of digital clones.