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This is not a deepfake: Part 1, the problem
Plus: Biden insults our intelligence on the wall, but it doesn't matter
“A lie can travel around the world before the truth can tie its shoes.” Or something like that*; if Mark Twain was alive today, he’d have an AI deepfake pitching skin cream that his older contemporary P. T. Barnum was hawking.
It’s inevitable that if something can be turned into a scam (or porn) on the Internet, it will be. The issue with scams has always been one of self-selection: what’s called a “419” scam—based on the Nigerian criminal code section that deals with advance payment cons—was never meant to fool everyone, only those who are predisposed to fall for such things. So, the elderly, those with emotional problems, they are the targets.
But the advent of AI and deepfakes has brought the scam artists some next level tech. Now we have deepfakes of Tom Hanks and uber YouTuber MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) flying around social media that are not so easy to discern from their real content. Of course, we should be suspicious of Tom Hanks pumping a dental plan, but MrBeast giving away iPhone 15s is not so far-fetched.
As others have noted, this is deeply related to the issues that brought Hollywood writers and SAG-AFTRA to strike. The writers found a happy answer—use AI content, but it always gets credited to a human writer. Studio producers can’t just use AI content without giving a person writing credits, and payment. With screen, television and streaming actors, the problem is much more complex.
If we want to see, for instance, a younger Hayden Christensen playing Anakin Skywalker in Ahsoka streaming on Disney+, or a young version of 74-year-old Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel, the computations used to create those de-aged images are not particularly different from the ones an AI uses to create deepfakes from published images and videos of the actors.
When Disney released Rogue One, a dead actor—Peter Cushing—was resurrected on screen to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. That was in 2016, which is a lifetime ago on the Moore’s Law time scale. What is somewhat passable, albeit a bit in the “uncanny valley” mindscape, in 2016, is the domain of every homebrew Blender or Blackmagic Fusion home hobbyist today. What studios are capable of today using Unreal-based video game technology, is also quickly being absorbed into the AI world. An AI can search for video clips of a real person, the more famous the better, and generate deepfakes, complete with voice and mannerisms, ready for release into social media, today.
“Right now if I wanted to, I could get together and pitch a series of seven movies that would star me in them in which I would be 32 years old, from now until kingdom come,” Tom Hanks observed in an interview with Brit podcaster Adam Buxton earlier in the year. “Anybody can now re-create themselves at any age they are by way of AI or deepfake technology.”
How studios will claim Intellectual Property (IP) rights to an actor’s portrayal of a character in a production, when the actor is a figment of a computer algorithm’s rendering, is the bedrock of a major dispute that has SAG-AFTRA striking. Once an actor has been “scanned” for CGI, current technology allows studios to use that actor’s likeness, voice, and mannerisms in any way, forever. The legal status of this capability, especially when coupled with AIs that can quickly generate or alter performances, is going to be a problem for a long time, and begs some mechanism to build a solution.
Actors, of course, want their likeness and performances (even if they didn’t perform) to be their exclusive property, to negotiate star power in perpetuity, for themselves and their estates. Studios want to recoup their investments in technology and insane payments to big stars by using AI tech. The losers here are not the A-list actors, who will eventually get their payday. It’s the small bit actors, character actors, and extras who will be deepfaked out of a job. And since many working actors find their start in the movie business on set in the smaller roles, how will people actually break in to the craft? Maybe live performances—plays—will be the only way left.
Movies are not plays, and anyone who has gone from the stage to the set will tell you the craft is wildly different. Acting for 30 seconds at a time, out of order, with scripts changed literally on the spot, keeping in character, and then waiting another 12 hours in a trailer before the next call is a whole different animal from the rhythm and organic breath of a stage production in front of a live audience. Not everyone can make the switch. But nobody ever said show business was fair.
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Or perhaps social media will become the new training ground. There’s some pretty awesome stuff coming out of the YouTube community. Look at Sticks Films, a couple of guys from Australia who have made trailers of the life stories of popular YouTubers. They recently flew up to California, hired a Mark Rober lookalike, and working with Rober’s staff, unbeknownst to the NASA and Apple engineer who gave the 2023 MIT commencement speech, made a trailer of Rober’s life. The production values were top-notch on an almost non-existent budget (they borrowed cameras and rigs from Rober’s production company!). Then they released a video of how they did it.
Sticks’ next target is MrBeast himself: a full movie-length feature. They asked Rober (who has Donaldson’s phone number) to contact the top YouTuber in America. A few weeks later, Rober said Donaldson told him they’d be worthy of his attention if they could amass five million subscribers. They’re currently at 300,000. I bet they’ll make their target before Christmas. (Subscribe to them, okay?)
Maybe the Hollywood movie studio system is already dead, but doesn’t know it. M Night Shaymalan should make a movie about it.
I’ll publish Part 2 of this post tomorrow: the solution. Stay tuned.
*Mark Twain never said “A lie can travel around the world before the truth can tie its shoes.” He did say “A lie can travel around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” But in fact the phrase was likely coined by Jonathan Swift, the 17th-18th century fount of wisdom who also gave us “He was a bold man who first ate an oyster,” “Every dog has his day,” “Don’t set your wit against a child,” and my favorite, “The power of fortune is confessed only by the miserable, for the happy impute all their success to prudence or merit.” That last one, right there is all of politics put through a still and concentrated into one potent sentence.
JOE BIDEN and his administration has insulted the intelligence of every American voter, and they don’t care.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Myorkas waived 26 federal laws protecting the air, water, and endangered species to continue building the wall approved under Donald Trump’s administration in 2019. This flies in the face of Biden’s campaign promise of “not another foot” of border wall would be built under his administration.
I’m speaking for the President. I’m saying that he has said that he does not believe a border wall is effective. That’s what he was asked. He has said that for some time now, and it still remains to be the case.
He asked — right? — he asked Congress multiple times, his team has asked Congress to reappropriate the funds. They refuse to do that. We’re going to comply by law.
Since when has President Biden—or any Democrat in office—decided they HAD TO use appropriated funds that a previous Congress, under Republican control, passed to do something they didn’t feel was the right thing to do?
I was today years old when I found out that Democrats follow the letter of the law and don’t turn to the courts, or political shenanigans, or the media, to try to do what they want despite clear Congressional guidance.
Biden’s White House staff thinks we’re idiots, apparently. Actually, they don’t think we’re idiots. They know we know better, but they don’t care. As long as Biden’s likely opponent in November 2024 is Donald Trump, the White House can continue insulting our intelligence because no matter what they do, they can’t out-stupid or out-insult Trump.
The one thing the White House under Biden can never say is that something Trump did was right, or good. If Satan himself built the wall, Biden would praise the devil before giving credit to Trump.
In fact, a wall is effective. It keeps the number of illegal border crossings a lot lower than it would be without a wall. It won’t 100% stop illegal immigration over our southern border, but it will stop it from unlimited growth. It’s like the fat person saying that not eating thirty Twinkies a day won’t stop them from being fat. But it will stop them from getting fatter. A wall works, but the Biden administration won’t ever admit it, though they will build it.