Weekend Roundup: Blizzard Walkout; How Deepfakes Land You a Job

It’s the weekend! Let’s revisit some big tech stories from the week you might have missed, including the huge employee walkout at Activision Blizzard and how one technologist’s passion translated into an extremely cool job.

Lucasfilm offers Deepfaker a Job

When it comes to technology, never underestimate the power of a personal project to land you a cool job. Lucasfilm, the Disney subsidiary that produces the “Star Wars” films, recently announced that it’d hired a YouTuber known as Shamookwho specializes in “deepfakes,” a technique that leverages machine learning to replace someone in an existing video or image with another person’s likeness. 

Shamook has drawn tons of followers online by re-doing computer-generated characters in various Lucasfilm productions, including Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in “Rogue One” (since Cushing had been dead for decades by the time filming began on that film, Lucasfilm recreated him entirely on a hard drive). Moreover, Shamook presumably pulled off this digital wizardry at a fraction of the cost of the film studio—all the more reason to hand him a paycheck

“[Industrial Light and Magic is] always on the lookout for talented artists and have in fact hired the artist that goes by the online persona ‘Shamook,’” a Lucasfilm representative told IndieWire (hat tip to CNET for the quote). “Over the past several years ILM has been investing in both machine learning and A.I. as a means to produce compelling visual effects work and it’s been terrific to see momentum building in this space as the technology advances.”

It seems likely that Lucasfilm will have Shamook work on future “Star Wars” properties—and perhaps other productions. His official title will be “Senior Facial Capture Artist.” It’s a great example of how far passion can take you.

Blizzard Faces Walkout

Earlier this month, the state of California filed a sexual harassment and workplace discrimination lawsuit against video-game giant Activision Blizzard. The company responded by calling the allegations “inaccurate” and “distorted”—which dismayed employees to the point where a portion of them planned a July 28 walkout. 

Blizzard, realizing the scope of the crisis on its hands, is now declaring that employees won’t face any repercussions if they participate in the walkout. In addition, CEO Bobby Kotick has published a letter to employees calling the company’s initial response “tone deaf.”

“I have asked the law firm WilmerHale to conduct a review of our policies and procedures to ensure that we have and maintain best practices to promote a respectful and inclusive workplace,” his letter added. “This work will begin immediately. The WilmerHale team will be led by Stephanie Avakian, who is a member of the management team at WilmerHale and was most recently the Director of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement.”

Blizzard is the latest tech giant to face very public backlash over an internal employee issue. Like Google and other companies that have confronted walkouts over the past few years, it’s pledging to listen to those employees’ concerns—but as always, we’ll need to wait and see if meaningful reform takes place.

That’s it! Have a great weekend, everyone!