At the beginning of the year, a series of Tom Cruise videos on the video-sharing platform TikTok caused a lot of attention. Users wondered whether the videos were real or fakes. Later, the Belgian media artist Chris Ume explained that he had created the videos on the computer. He had attracted a lot of attention with numerous other examples of hyperrealistic videos. In public debate and in the media, the term "deep fake" is often used nowadays to describe this field of synthetic media.
Software code replaces the camera or the microphone - this is possibly a pragmatic description of how synthetic media can be created. It often takes a variety of already existing technologies to create new solutions from them - in synthetic media, computer vision and machine learning played an important role, Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) try to outdo each other in generating results so that the result, for example a picture of Tom Cruise, becomes almost perfect.
In principle, synthetic media - like other technologies - are neither good nor bad, it depends on how they are used. However, synthetic media are currently often referred to as deep fake with negative connotations. Often in connection with manipulation in election campaigns, influencing public opinion or obtaining money through deception, for example in the form of synthetic voices, manipulated images or videos. However, when asked if there was a high level of Deep Fake influence in the last US election campaign in 2020, Nina Schick (Deep Fake Advisor) in an interview with Victor Riparbelli (CEO of Synthesia), replied: "If you look at the creation of synthetic media that was used for political disinformation, the answer is that there are hardly any or only a few use cases that were used for political disinformation."
Not only security services have the topic of deep fake as a risk on their agenda, tech companies like Gartner, Adobe and Microsoft are also working on solutions to mitigate the risk of misuse of synthetic media. Possibilities could be independent bodies that confirm images or videos as authentic and award a kind of TÜV or seal of approval.
The use of synthetic media is already ubiquitous. Apps like Reface or FaceApp are available on many smartphones. The technology will become exciting when it becomes easy and scalable for more users, including in a corporate context.
Victor Riparbelli (CEO of Synthesia) and also the investors of Samsung NEXT see synthetic media as "the next big thing" in the media landscape - comparable to the change brought about by social media. In the future, synthetic media could make it possible for every user to create high-quality audiovisual content with the help of technology. Currently, this is reserved for well-financed Hollywood studios or Netflix.
A concrete example is the Swedish band ABBA. On 5 November 2021, the cult band's new album "Voyage" was released, and in 2022 ABBA will go on tour - and dance and sing as avatars. Tickets for the concerts in London with the ABBA avatars in the look of 1970 are already available.
Synthetic media are fascinating - especially in the context of the commercial and future uses that are already possible. Will we see you in London at the concert of the avatars?
Text: Simon Meier