Inside the world of ‘digital cloning’ and deepfakes
The era of the hyper-real.
Digital cloning is an emerging technology that involves deep-learning algorithms, allowing one to manipulate currently existing audio, photos and videos to the point they are “hyper-realistic”.
In recent years, things have slowly become more dystopian.
Companies are now creating platforms for individuals to create a ‘digital clone of themselves’ by feeding a series of images and voice recordings to an AI-driven database.
As such, you are able to “bring to life” a digital clone that looks like you, talks like you, sounds like you and takes on your personality, so that future generations can find out all about you after your death.
People are even now using this technology to appear at their own funerals:
Although ‘legacy’ features have existed for a while as social media accounts of the deceased continue to remain in cyberspace, creating an “intelligent avatar” takes the theoretical study of digital immortality (or “virtual life after death”) to an entirely different plateau.
This type of technology has developing for the better part of a decade now.
“Think of it as a digital clone,” Don Davidson, the founder and CEO of Intellitar, told reporters in 2010. This was back when the concept was first being developed.
“We want to give users the gift of immortality while giving future generations a sense of connection to their roots. Through your Intellitar you will be able to preserve and share your personality, life experiences, knowledge, wisdom and memories in a way never before available.”
Since then, the groundwork companies like Intellitar pathed has manifested into a new industry.
In 2022, California-based company HereAfter AI is leading the charge with a free app available. The group recently powered by more than four hours of conversations about lives and memories.
“If you’re talking to your grandfather’s avatar and you mention your favourite movie is ‘The Terminator,’ his avatar will remember that and may bring it up in a future conversation.”
With the creation of a ‘digital clone’, one can not only capture the visual presence of themselves, but also their mannerism, including personality and cognition.
The groups say this will allow ‘families to connect with multiple generations’, passing on the family legacy to future generations and providing a way for history to be ‘captured forever’.
Fans of the emerging field include Star Trek actor William Shatner, who recorded his memories last year.
Digital cloning can also be used to create avatars of historical figures for educational setting.
This field continues to combine technologies of simulation, artificial intelligence, speech synthesis and database structures to allow you “to create and train” an “artificially intelligent presentation of you.”
Modern artificial intelligence, in a similar way, has allowed for the creation of deepfakes.
This technique, in a similar way, involves manipulation of a video to the point where the person depicted in the video is saying or performing actions he or she may not have consented to.
As the 21st century’s answer to photoshopping, deepfakes use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make images of fake events or fake people.
Want to put new words in a politician’s mouth, star in your favourite movie, or dance like a pro?
Deepfakes can achieve all of this for you.
In April 2018, BuzzFeed released a deepfake which was manipulated to depict former President, Barack Obama, making statements he has previously not made in public to warn the public against the potential dangers of deepfakes. The video was made using Jordan Peele’s voice:
Audio can be deepfaked too, to create “voice skins” or ”voice clones” of public figures.
Who is making deepfakes?
Everyone from academic and industrial researchers to amateur enthusiasts, visual effects studios and porn producers.
Governments might also be dabbling in the technology, too, as part of their online strategies to discredit and disrupt extremist groups, or make contact with “targeted individuals”, for example.
Deepfake videos are even in galleries and museums. In Florida, the Dalí museum has a deepfake of a surrealist painter who introduces his art and takes selfies with visitors.
As Henry Ajder, head of threat intelligence at Deeptrace, puts it: “The world is becoming increasingly more synthetic. This technology is not going away.”
And, if this is the case, raises a number of legal and ethical concerns.
ETHICAL AND LEGAL CONCERNS
With the development of various technology, as mentioned above, there are numerous concerns that arises, including identity theft, data breaches and other ethical concerns.
Another issues with digital cloning is that there are little to no legislations to protect potential victims against these possible problems, especially deepfakes.
Deepfake videos can bring potential harm in the form of the depiction of individuals displaying inappropriate behaviour, although it may have never occurred in real life.
Furthermore, with hyper-realistic videos being released on the internet, it becomes very easy for the public to be misinformed, thus contributing to this vicious cycle of unnecessary harm.
With the rise in fake news in recent news, there is also the possibility of combining deepfakes and fake news. This will bring further difficulty to distinguishing what is real and what is fake.
But we shouldn’t discount the potential harm consensual cloning could bring, either.
What privacy rights do dead people turned into ‘virtual individuals’ and avatars have?
Are cybersecurity experts up-to-speed on laws, if any, in the event an avatar is hacked, turns evil, has an e-affair, or converts to a virtual life of crime?
What if a business rival or enemy were to hack into the account and ‘re-train’ your digital clone so that was an embarrassing representation of your life or your brand?
That would surely not be the satisfying legacy you had meant to pass on to future generations.
The more insidious agenda of these technologies, along with other synthetic media and fake news, is to create a zero-trust society, where people cannot, or no longer bother to, distinguish truth from falsehood.
And when trust is eroded, it is easier to raise doubts about specific events, people or more.
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4 thoughts on “Inside the world of ‘digital cloning’ and deepfakes”
I remember on one episode we were discussing what is coming in the future and I mentioned how Deep Fakes were a cause for concern.
Next time I watch a RNA General Knowledge video I hope I’m not just watching the Intellitars of you, Ethan and Andy, General. Maybe you can achieve digital immortality, but I don’t want Deep Fakery, I want the real thing!
Nothing is true; everything is permitted!