Artificial intelligence

Why Some Celebrities Are Embracing AI Deepfakes

  • By Nick Marsh
  • Asia Sales Correspondent

3 hours ago

source of images, Wall Nick/Netflix


Salma Hayek in Black Mirror Joan Is Awful

Singaporean actress, model and former radio DJ Jamie Yeo has no problem being deepfake. In fact, she signed up for it.

“It’s kind of like that episode of Black Mirror with Salma Hayek,” jokes Ms Yeo.

She was speaking to the BBC the day after the new series of Charlie Brooker’s Netflix show was released. In the first episode, actress Salma Hayek, playing a fictionalized version of herself, gives up her likeness to a production company.

The deal allows him to use an artificial intelligence or AI-generated deepfake version of the Hollywood A-lister to “star” in their new TV drama. What she says and does on the show is controlled by the computer.

The consequences for Mrs. Hayek – without spoiling the story – are not good.

Concerns about the impact of AI are partly behind the first strike by Hollywood actors in more than four decades, bringing an end to film and television in the United States.

It comes after the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) failed to reach an agreement in the United States for better AI misuse protections for its members.

The actors’ union has warned that “artificial intelligence poses an existential threat to the creative professions” as it prepares to dig into the issue.

However, Ms. Yeo is not worried. She is one of a growing number of celebrities embracing AI-generated advertising.

New technology meets a mixture of excitement and apprehension.


Actress, model and former Singaporean radio DJ Jamie Yeo

Ms. Yeo has just struck a deal with fintech firm Hugosave, which allows her to use a digitally manipulated likeness of her to sell their content.

The process is quite simple. She spends a few hours in front of a green screen to capture her face and her movements, then a few more hours in a recording studio to capture her voice.

An artificial intelligence program then synchronizes the images with the audio to create a digital alter-ego capable of saying practically anything. The results are strange.

“I understand the concern, but this technology is here to stay,” she says. “So even if you don’t accept it because you’re scared, there will be other people who will accept it.”

Some have already done so. As part of his deal with PepsiCo, superstar footballer Lionel Messi allowed him to use a deepfake version of himself to advertise Lay’s crisps.

Not only can online users create personalized ‘Lionel Messi’ video messages, but they can also have it said in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Turkish.


The avatar of footballer Lionel Messi on the Lay’s website

“I think deepfakes will be part of normal practice in the advertising industry for the next few years,” says Dr Kirk Plangger, a marketing expert at King’s College London.

“It opens the door to all sorts of creative options. They are able to micro-target consumers and are often extremely persuasive.”

The efficiency of the process also makes it attractive from a commercial point of view.

“You don’t do as much work for the money you charge,” Ms Yeo says.

“It’s also good for the client on a budget because they get a lot more content than they would in a normal shoot. So it works for everyone.”

The client – in this case Singapore-based Hugosave – agrees.

“Having this technology means we can literally produce hundreds of videos in a matter of days. Compare that to the months, or even years, we would need if we filmed the content the traditional way,” says Braham Djidjelli, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Hugosave.

“We’re able to leverage the benefits of AI while retaining the human touch of a trusted local face – in this case, Jamie’s.”

But, as analysts such as Dr. Plangger point out, there is a “dark side” to the technology.

“It’s not something we can put back in the box,” he says. “The advertising industry needs to realize the risks as well as the possibilities of artificial intelligence. That means stepping back, as a society, and thinking about the appropriate or ethical use of this technology.”

One of the things Dr. Plangger refers to is a looming “crisis of confidence,” where consumers can’t tell the difference between what’s right or wrong. It is something that is already exploited by vested interests online and can range from synthetically manipulated pornography to misinformation to political messages.

This week BBC News focuses on AI, how the technology affects our lives and what impacts it could have in the near future.

But there are also more practical risks for talent who willingly signs up to be deepfake. Currently, there are no clear AI laws to ensure your image is properly protected.

For example, what happens if a brand uses your digital avatar to endorse a product that could damage your image or if your alter ego makes a joke in bad taste?

“We are in uncharted territory when it comes to AI and deepfake technology,” says Tng Sheng Rong, intellectual property lawyer at Rajah and Tann in Singapore.

“There are so many issues that can arise. Who owns the intellectual property? Who to go to for legal recourse? The truth is that the existing laws don’t provide a strong enough regulatory framework to guard against these issues.”

This may be the last hurdle for advertisers before they start buying the rights to digital versions of Hollywood A-listers, for example.

At this early stage, Ms Yeo says she is very aware of the risks, but her decision was mainly based on trust – both in Hugosave and the way business is done in Singapore.

But at the end of the day, she says, it’s about staying one step ahead.

“If you still want to be in the game, then you have to learn how to be in it. Because if you don’t, you should probably just retire.”

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