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Why you’ll soon have a digital clone of your own

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Some of the most influential influencers on social media sites aren’t people, but computer-generated digital creations. And soon digital “people” will be commonplace in business. 

In the past, fabricated fake folks were built the old-fashioned way — using Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN) AI technology (the process behind video deepfakes). Nowadays, phony friends are build using LLM-based genAI tools.

One early digital influencer on Instagram, named Lil Miquela, has been 19 years old since 2016, is worth millions of dollars and was named one of the 25 most influential people on the Internet back in 2018, despite not being a person.

Other computer-generated influencers include Lu do MagaluShudu GramImmaIon GöttlichK/DABermudaThalasya and Aitana Lopez.

To me, the most fascinating dimension to the digital influencer phenomenon is the reaction of the public. Followers who presumably know these influencers are computer-generated actually leave comments on their posts, addressing the non-person as if they were capable of reading and understanding comments. 

It’s unsettling to think that these commenters don’t know they’re talking to a fake person, and also unsettling to think they do know — and comment anyway. Some commenters are themselves virtual influencers (no doubt playing the Instagram game of performative engagement on the accounts one wishes to steal followers from).

This is a clue to the future: A huge chunk of the public appears to be indifferent to whether the person who is “influencing” them is real or fake. 

Taking a cue from online AI influencers, businesses are starting to look at creating humans from scratch —or cloning existing humans in digital form. 

The avatar age

While non-existent social media influencers gain millions of followers, Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters are hard at work to perfect virtual humans for business users. 

Of course, Apple, Microsoft and Meta are making huge strides with real-time avatars for communication

Meta’s most advanced tech — still in the lab — was demonstrated last year in an amazing video conversation between Lex Fridman and Mark Zuckerberg

These technologies are being employed for real-time communication. Replacing video, a 3D representation of you copies your mouth movements to match your actual voice, as well as facial expressions and body language for real-time, live communication. 

But another way to use these life-like puppets is to feed them a script, and let a computer-generated voice determine the mouth movements and all the rest. 

TikTok is already developing an AI-powered feature enabling virtual influencers to appear in video advertising on the platform. And Microsoft recently talked up an AI system called VASA-1, which can make what is basically a deepfake video, all from a single photograph and an audio clip. 

Microsoft says it won’t release the technology to the public, citing concern about possible misuse, but the technology’s existence suggests a future where people will be able to create versions of themselves (or others) via free smartphone apps. 

In fact, a company called Synthesia (backed by Nvidia) offers 160 canned AI humans, listed on a menu from which customers can choose. Users write the script (or use Synthesia’s ChatGPT-based tool to auto-create the script), then the avatar “reads” the script using natural looking mouth movements, gestures and facial expressions. The result is a polished presentation in any of 130 languages, and the final presentation is user-editable.

Why do this? For starters, Synthesia claims its product cuts video presentation creation time by 90% and dramatically reduces cost. And, of course, the multi-language feature is fantastic for companies with global reach.

Now, Synthesia is working on technology designed to turn users into avatars — full-body digital clones that are hard to tell from the real person. 

It starts with a full-body scan. From that point forward, the user has possession of a photorealistic digital double who can do all the presentations and other video content that would normally be done personally. The AI clone takes emotive cues from the words in the script, smiling during light moments, looking appropriately sad delivering bad news. The ability to convey non-verbal communication naturally is the result of Synthesia’s Express-1 AI model, which itself was trained using professional actors. 

The benefit here is that you can give high-quality video presentations without a camera or a microphone — you can build it from an airplane or the beach. Plus, you speak 130 languages and never age. 

When your clone gets an AI brain

But far more interesting than an avatar that looks and acts like you is one that thinks and communicates like you — a virtual you with an AI brain for interacting with others on your behalf. 

Meta is working on tech called “Creator A.I.” that will enable real Instagram influencers to create fake digital AI versions of themselves to interact with fans through direct messages and comments. That initiative is a glimpse of the near future of business communication. 

We’ve been talking about “digital transformation” for a decade. But it’s only recently when that transformation involved digitizing ourselves. 

Businesses are now looking to embrace the concept of digital avatars for all the same reasons as other digital transformation initiatives: Higher productivity and lower costs. This process involves the cloning of existing people. 

Any day now, an industry will emerge where your face and body are scanned, your voice is recorded and your communications are fed into the system, so it knows how you use words. From that point, a virtual version of you can leave high-resolution video messages from a simple command you give to your AI glasses. 

In other words, you say: “Send Janet a message and let her know I’ll be late.” Then Janet receives a video of “you” telling her you’ll be late. When she asks where you are now, the digital video you will tell her based on your current location. When she tells the digital you that she can’t meet late today, and that we should schedule it for another time, the video you says: “Ok, no problem. How about tomorrow, same time?” You get a notification and, after your approval, the meeting is rescheduled on your calendar. 

Likewise, when someone tries to video call you and you don’t answer, the virtual you can take your place and try to handle whatever business comes via the call.

Within a few short years, this technology will advance to the point where nobody can be sure whether they’re doing a video call with you or your AI clone. 

Presentations, pitches, training and other forms of communication you’d normally be recorded doing will be created in far less time by simply uploading a script or even a cryptic, brief set of instructions or descriptions of what your digital self is supposed to communicate. And then the AI can create a solid, appealing, polished presentation delivered by you or, rather, your clone.

Whether the ubiquity of AI clones in business sounds creepy or exciting, I can tell you that it’s absolutely going to happen. 

The embrace of virtual humans in a business context — as weird as that is — should be approached like any other major digital initiative: Define the strategy, identify specific needs, evaluate and select the right technologies and providers, estimate ROI, focus on data privacy and regulatory compliance and all the rest.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry. Help is on the way. Soon you’ll have a clone of your own.

Augmented Reality, Emerging Technology, Generative AI, Virtual Reality

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