/ Technology

What’s your view on deepfakes and digital de-ageing?

Paul McCartney’s new video got me thinking: how do you feel about the use of deepfake and de-ageing tech in the world of entertainment?

Despite being a big Beatles fan (I’d have to be with my name), I haven’t taken much of an interest in Paul McCartney’s more recent solo work. I have to admit I wasn’t even aware he’d released his 18th(!) solo album last December, no less a single titled ‘Find My Way’ on the same day.

But then the YouTube algorithm recommended a new video for the remix of that song last Thursday, and it caught my eye immediately. Why? Because there walking and dancing around in the video was a young, vibrant, Beatles-era version of Paul, fresh out of the 60s.

I had to check it wasn’t old footage at first, or simply a young lookalike, but no – it’s a deepfake – a digital de-ageing. The company behind it, Hyperreal, has been quoted saying “the technology to de-age talent and have them perform in creative environments like this is now fully-realised”.

Cool or creepy?

I’ve seen descriptions of the de-aged Macca ranging from cool to creepy – impressive to unsettling. But how do you feel about it?

How do you feel about digital de-ageing tech being used in entertainment?
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(let us know why you’re for/against in the comments)

You may remember we discussed ‘digital resurrections’ back in 2016 after the late Peter Cushing’s likeness was digitally inserted into a new Star Wars film. Cinema has also made the most of de-ageing tech in the past – the Terminator franchise has done it three times now with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton and Edward Furlong all getting the fountain of youth treatment.

Despite similar techniques being applied in major film franchises, the McCartney music video is the first time I’ve seen such a recognisable musician moving into the world of de-ageing and deepfakes. As this is a ‘performance’, does it open the door for more of the same from the past in the future?

Does seeing a young version of the musician make a song more accessible for a different audience? For what it’s worth, I do think the dance-style remix is an improvement on the original.

How do you feel about deepfake videos and de-ageing? How far do you think this technology will go in the world of entertainment?

Comments

It’s a remarkable achievement, but not in the class of virtual reality, in my view.

We have become accustomed to Photoshopping and that is predated by what could be done with manipulating film photography. Old black & white films have been colourised, which must have been a very time consuming process.

I wonder what could be achieved if human ingenuity could be harnessed and used to find solutions for protecting us from scams.

I don’t think think digital deageing is anything to worry about.

But deep fakes are a potentially worrying technology, as might be used by bad actors for criminal purposes.

Em says:
30 July 2021

We are used to the idea of prosthetic makeup, body doubles, photoshopped models, computer-generated imagery, miming to backing tracks and voice tuning, to give an illusion of something that is not entirely real or true-to-life.

As long as it is confined to the entertainments industries and made clear to the viewer/listener that these techniques are being used, I don’t see there is a problem with it.

The Hollywood film industry is generally more transparent about these things, largely as a result of being sued for libel in the 1930s, and unions demanding full credits for everyone involved in a production right down to the person who makes the tea and fills the sandwiches. The “all characters and events portrayed are entirely ficticious” and other disclamers are used to limit the possibility of any legal action against the makers and distributors. The use of stunt doubles and dubbing artists is often included in the film credits.

But the music industry still needs to go further to clean up its act, beyond the sad days when even the BBC allowed “artists” to mime live on TOTP. We often read press stories of X-Factor not being quite what it seems, and it certainly isn’t from my experience.

The real danger from this technology is the ability to put words into the mouth of a prominent politician, personality or professional – to make them appear to take a view contrary to what they may or may not have said in reality. This is then deployed on social media channels to push a particular agenda, or to damage or discredit the views of the individual concerned.

So we need clear legal disclaimers on all legitimate uses of this technology – including entertainment – to help spot the misappropriation that is bound to increase over time.

I think you’ll find stuff like TOTP has to be mimed, as to have all the different acts performing live would take far too long and would never fit in to half an hour, not even when the show went out live. And I used to work on live music once in a previous life and I know what’s involved, especially as I used to operate the mixing desk which controls all the sound that the audience hears, a great sense of power at the time. But it needs to be set up very different for each act and that’s no two minute job, it takes ages. Anyone who ever watched “the tube” on channel 4 back in the 80’s will have seen what’s involved, they had several different acts performing live on the show but in between each act there was other stuff like interviews or short film clips etc. while the mixer and other stuff was set up for each act.

I must say I have very little interest in digital de-ageing and generally agree with Em. I dislike anything fake and there are obvious concerns over deception and fraud if the technology is developed into other aspects of life.

I have never experienced virtual reality [except in my dreams] but am very impressed by remastering and colourising vintage film and video stock. I watched the broadcast on Channel 4 of a remastered version of the 1966 World Cup football championship match between England and West Germany [mainly as an antidote to the UEFA Champions League 2020 cup final against Italy]. It was so realistic and so much more vivid; the technology for this form of colour rendition conversion has advanced tremendously and I should like to see more offerings in that medium – the problem is that it is probably a very time-consuming and expensive process for which very few events would generate sufficient audience [and hence the advertising revenue] to justify the cost.

As technology develops the clock cannot be turned back. So, these techniques can, and will, be used for ill, just as scammers use technology to their advantage. How do you stop it? I don’t believe you can. We can only make people aware – and hope most believe the warning and ignore the fraud. As for the rest…..?

I find this form of tech very disturbing because it could possibly be used to set up someone totally innocent and frame them as some kind of criminal or worse. And it needn’t be anyone in the public eye, not necessarily anyone famous or otherwise well known, but it could happen to almost anyone, especially as so many folk now have things like go-pro cameras and so many phones can take quality pictures and videos and there’s so many affordable HD video cameras available so someone totally innocent could be set up as some kind of filthy child molesting pervert for instance when they’ve done absolutely nothing of the sort. And there’s all manner of other appalling possibilities with this kind of manipulative tech. And there’s always the possible misuse of cctv in a similar manner if this manipulation technology was applied to security footage by someone malicious. Or it could be used to set up someone as supposedly getting personally involved with someone else’s partner or who knows what else. And how would you prove your innocence to the police and the courts? And how will forensics and CSI’s deal with such a set up?

Like so many technological developments, the law of unintended consequences can have devastating effects. In the case of deepfake, I have to agree that the down side exceeds the up many fold. However, the genie is out of the bottle and won’t go back.

One of the best deepfake examples I have seen was the C4 version of the Queen’s Christmas Speech. Worth a look if you’ve not seen it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvY-Abd2FfM

Thanks for reminding us about this video, Roger. I hope that videos like this will help make us all question what we see and are told.

I hadn’t seen that before, Roger, so thanks for offering it. It was exceptionally clever and laced with irony which added to its enjoyment. It shows that a deadly serious piece of genuine fake news could easily be produced to cause mass consternation . . . but only if the supposed presenter was implicitly trusted, so no impostor politicians would have credibility.

It certainly opened my eyes. The technology is amazing, but potential for abuse is sky high.

The explanatory video accompanying the broadcast programme was interesting and the producer seemed to recognise the malign potential of the technology in the wrong hands, but that will surely happen. It possibly already has from certain places on the globe — propaganda and ideological control are obvious uses. To develop it for criminal purposes will take some ingenuity, but I wouldn’t rule it out. If the prize is big enough someone will go for it, perhaps at the corporate level.

There’s a lot of thought being given as how videos can be ‘watermarked’, to provide proof of origin, or something similar. As yet, however, nothing’s materialised.

One thought about Johnson: how would we know if any video he was in had been faked?

Exactly!

His credibility level is especially fragile so his appearance requires ten factor authentication.

There seems to have been little real response to the original purpose. As then sometimes happens the Convo diverts slightly to more fruitful pastures πŸ™‚ ??

That’s right. With some Conversations, all that needs to be said is covered in the first few comments. The rest of the time we are twiddling our thumbs making light banter. That’s why it’s called “Conversation”.

Yeah that πŸ™‚

Using deep fake technology to de-age a performer says more about the performer’s personal concerns than anything else. In the last years of his life Leonard Cohen put out music that reflected on his age and approaching death. It worked because of the personal context. Fake the context and I am not convinced that the art works.

Thinking only about the entertainment value and assuming consents, I wonder if we might see any new Beatles concerts in the near future. What better time than now, when it has become the norm to see music events and sport on TV rather than live to avoid risks of spreading coronavirus.

I’d prefer to see Beethoven playing the piano.

Me too, but the request could fall on deaf ears.

Nice to see the Proms with an audience, and most wearing masks.

Yes, but they didn’t struggle too hard to attract a new audience with the chosen repertoire — Vaughan Williams, Poulenc and Macmillan. I suppose things can only get better from now on.