Deepfakes: hide your face… or maybe, sell it

Everyone knows our jobs are being threatened by AI, so let’s take it up a notch. What if you found out that, not only is AI capable of stealing your job, but now it can even steal your face?

Artificial intelligence is now capable of assuming your identity thanks to deepfake technology. The technology uses AI to combine existing images and videos of people to synthesise human imagery, complete with eyes, nose, lips, and even song simulation. Simply put, anyone with the technology can make people appear to do or say things they never actually did. As if that was not dangerous enough, the software to do so is continuously improving and is readily available, making it harder to detect such fake videos.

We’ve already seen plenty of misuse with the technology; face-swaps of celebrities in pornography, making politicians say insensitive or incendiary remarks. Heck, even Obama is not safe! At its worst, people can use deepfakes to ruin your personal life, manipulate public perception, or spread hateful propaganda through the imagery of key influencers.

What does this mean for us in the future? Lost amidst all the paranoia is the view that deepfake technology also has the potential to do good. It is time to look at the brighter possibilities.

We’ve all come to a grudging acceptance that technology has the power to ruin our lives, but let’s also remember - we’ve also become incredibly accepting that technology also enriches our lives. In the right hands, this technology can be used for good causes, with and by the right people.

The simple human truth is that people look up to other people. However, the people we look up to, from our favorite celebrities to political changemakers, are often incredibly busy, even the smallest bit of their time needs to be maximised however possible. Take, for example, a recent charity campaign by Malaria No More that featured David Beckham. Everyone knows Beckham, he is a world-class brand unto himself and with that comes a lack of accessibility for his time and talent. Thanks to deepfake technology, Malaria No More got Beckham and synthesised multiple versions of him speaking in nine languages. Getting Beckham to be “fluent” in Chinese and African dialects is likely to be just the beginning of positive uses of the technology, and it has shown the world what’s possible with this technology.

Think about it. Deepfakes provide innovative ways for how brands market and communicate. Brands can potentially develop new content genres, and just like the Beckham case, find ways to access and maximise talents for new content. Can’t get Lionel Richie to fly across the world urgently to serenade for charity? Need Trevor Noah to be part of an entertaining political campaign video? Imagine a future where it’s as easy as getting a license and their approval to synthesise their appearance – that’s costs for travel, accommodation and more removed in an instant as your computers do the work.

For researchers and marketers, this technology can free them from licensing issues when using people’s pictures for creating personas in their research reports. Using the deepfake technology allows them to use images of completely new computer-generated people, created from an amalgam of faces. It potentially means no more misuse of identity, and thankfully, no more low-resolution faces from Google Images on anyone’s Powerpoint presentations.

Beyond entertainment and marketing communications, there are plenty more positive uses for the technology, from therapy to education. As deepfake technology perfects itself over time, it will be exciting to see how else we can positively use the technology. In the short term, I propose we all start thinking about how much value we can price our faces.

Abdul Rahman is a brand planner for Ogilvy Singapore.

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