In about a decade from now, digital avatars will look, act, and function just like real people.
They’ll have an ultra-realistic appearance, voice, and mannerisms. You might hire one to fill in for you at a meeting, conduct interviews with new candidates, or discuss a project at work.
What we’re facing (quite literally, in the next few years) is a bot that looks so real it’s imperceptible to the human eye as a fake.
Forget everything you know about Siri and Alexa. These human-like robots will talk on our behalf, functioning like a fill-in replicant with a face, arms, and a personality.
You might choose one that looks, acts and talks like you or maybe “hire” an avatar that is more like a digital butler with a unique look. Want to chat on Facebook at a video conference in 2029? Send your avatar instead. Want to talk to your banker and your realtor at the same time? Send your avatar to one of those meetings.
This might seem far-fetched or too futuristic, but then again: maybe you haven’t seen the Tom Cruise deepfakes on TikTok yet.
The creator has downplayed the importance of the short segments, which look exactly like something Tom Cruise might film on his phone. He says an actor (who is a Tom Cruise impersonator) had to film the original videos and it took weeks of effort using AI algorithms to create the final results.
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There’s nothing to worry about because it wasn’t like someone opened an app and made a fake Tom Cruise golf clip in two minutes.
I can’t help but wonder where this is all leading.
I’m not one for doom and gloom. I’m not that concerned about a world leader declaring war over TikTok or YouTube. I’m sure there’s a little more to it than that. What interests me is that these videos are utterly convincing. I watched the one where Tom Cruise plays golf and, other than the fact that he looks a bit younger than he should, it seems like any other video you would watch on TikTok.
I won’t spoil anything here, but the show The Mandalorian showed how digital acting is evolving and maybe isn’t as convincing as we’d like. Blink twice and you can tell one of the “actors” is a bot. Over the last few years, digital actors have popped up here and there, usually in a way that ruins the movie. However, deepfakes are short, sometimes in lower resolutions, and typically involve a world figure or celebrity. Apart from the dangers, I’m envisioning a time when deepfakes become more than curiosity on TikTok and start to become useful, practical, and functional.
Here’s what I’d like to see. First, as a journalist, I’d like a digital avatar that can do interviews. I’d program it with a few basic questions but the AI would be capable of branching off easily. It would be almost exactly like emailing questions to a source except that this “email” can talk, respond with a bit of emotion, ask follow-up questions, record the conversation, and even fact-check on the fly. If the interview goes beyond basic factual conversation, the bot would alert me to join the call.
I’d also like an avatar that can run meetings. In a brainstorming session, maybe I’d attend myself and talk about new apps and software, but the bot would be “on the Zoom call” as we say these days, listening and interacting, reminding people to stay on topic, and maybe even telling a few jokes to lighten up the mood.
Think Alexa with a face. Or maybe Siri with arms.
And, to be honest, I’d even pay for it. I already use an app for transcriptions; I’m already paying for Alexa skills and services.
My hope is that this deepfake-to-avatar evolution happens faster than any of us expect.
TikTok versions of Tom Cruise might just be the beginning.