The Future Is Deeply Fake: Living Portraits and Learned Talking Heads

Is the truth really out there? I’m beginning to wonder.

In the above video, you can get a real and perhaps mildly terrifying look at the latest incarnation of so-called deepfakes, those uncanny videos of peoples’ faces doing things they never actually did, or plopped onto other people’s bodies.

This, however, is much more advanced.

While before, you would have needed several images of a person to create a deepfake, Samsung researchers have developed a new way to streamline the process, allowing deepfakes (or, as they call them, “Realistic Neural Talking Head models”) to be created using only a single image. Say, the one on your Facebook profile page. Think about it.

According to the project’s researchers (their paper can be read here), this new method of deepfaking involves “lengthy meta-learning,” during which the AI analyzes videos to understand human facial movements. Afterwards, the AI can take a single image and create a more-or-less accurate moving representation of the individual in the image.

Things get really weird when you see 2D paintings brought to life, like the Mona Lisa.

The Mona Lisa brought to life
Image: YouTube

Many have questioned just what this technology will be used for.

Good? Bad? Will it be used to deceive? Even the description on the YouTube video, posted by research lead Egor Zakharov, goes into a lengthy comment on the nature of these kinds of technologies. He compares them to Hollywood’s special effects, and how over time they’ve become available to everyone:

“Our work (and quite a few parallel works) will lead to the democratization of the certain special effects technologies. And the democratization of the technologies has always had negative effects…[but] the net effect of democratization on the World has been positive, and mechanisms for stemming the negative effects have been developed.”

There are, however, other applications that aren’t quite so malicious. Imagine you’re at a museum in the future, and a replica of the Mona Lisa pops to life and starts describing her own history. That’d be neat, I guess.

Or, if we want to dive into the weird AI futures of something like Revelation Space, I wonder if such deepfakes could some day be coupled with artificial intelligence (constructed from brain scans, of course) to “resurrect” the deceased. Have a picture of Einstein sitting on your desk, ask him questions about physics when you get bored.

Who knows? The future is a weird place, whatever the case.

But can we trust the future? Can we trust the present? How can mirrors be real if our eyes aren’t real? These and other exciting questions will remain unanswered in the next issue of Stranger Dimensions

Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

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