Deepfakes for good? How synthetic media is transforming business
Deepfakes — hyper realistic forgeries manufactured by AI — have developed a reputation as harbingers of misinformation and fraud. However, the same techniques powering them also enable positive, even transformative, applications for business.
Deepfakes leverage powerful deep-learning algorithms to swap faces and voices in photos, videos, and audio clips. The resulting synthetic media looks and sounds authentic, though it depicts events or speech that never occurred.
The technology behind deepfakes is known as a generative adversarial network, or GAN. GANs consist of two neural networks, a generator, and a discriminator, which compete against each other to produce increasingly realistic outputs.
The generator creates forged images, video, or audio while the discriminator tries to identify them as fake. This adversarial dynamic causes the generator to constantly improve, producing deepfakes that can fool even digital forensic experts.
While early deepfakes were crude and apparent forgeries, the quality has improved exponentially thanks to profound learning advances and the availability of training data. We’ve gone from shaky, low-resolution Obama videos to photorealistic avatars like the Luke Skywalker character used in The Mandalorian.
Deepfakes in education
What if students could talk realistically with Martin Luther King Jr. or Marie Curie? That’s the promise of synthetic media in education.
Deepfake algorithms can animate historical photos and footage, allowing influential figures to give speeches and presentations as if they were in the classroom. The resulting videos are far more engaging and interactive than lectures or textbooks.
Education platforms are harnessing deepfake technology to create AI tutors that provide customised support to students. Rather than a generic video lecture, each learner can get tailored instruction and feedback from a virtual tutor who speaks their language and adjusts to their level.
For example, Anthropic built Claude, an AI assistant designed specifically for education. Claude can answer students’ natural language questions, explain concepts clearly, and identify knowledge gaps.
Such AI tutors make learning more effective, accessible, and inclusive. Students feel like they have an expert guide helping them master new skills and material.
AI and deepfake technology have enormous potential to enhance workforce training and education in immersive new ways too.
As Drew Rose, CSO and founder of cybersecurity firm Living Security, explains, “educators can leverage deepfakes to create immersive learning experiences. For instance, a history lesson might feature a ‘guest appearance’ by a historical figure, or a science lesson might have a renowned scientist explaining complex concepts.”
Ivana Bartoletti, privacy and data protection expert at Wipro and author of An Artificial Revolution – On Power, Politics and AI envisions similar applications.
“Deepfake technologies could provide an easier and less expensive way to train and visualise,” she says.
“Students of medicine and nursing currently train with animatronic robots. They are expensive and require special control rooms. Generative AI and augmented or virtual reality headsets or practice rooms will be cheaper and allow for the generalisation, if not the gamification, of simulation.”
Medical students could gain experience diagnosing and treating simulated patients, while business students could practice high-stakes scenarios like negotiations without real-world consequences.
These immersive, gamified environments enabled by AI and deepfakes also have vast potential for corporate training.
Bartoletti notes, “A similar use case could be made for other types of learning that require risky and skill-based experiences. The Air Force uses AI as adversaries in flight simulators, and humans have not beaten the best AIs since 2015.
“Other forms of training could also be gamified using AI, such as business negotiations or high-stake communications, such as hostile Q&A or communications across cultures,” she adds.
Customer service and marketing
AI-generated content also presents new opportunities for businesses to engage and serve customers in personalised, interactive ways.
Bartoletti said, “deepfakes will likely be used in business as avatars in presentations, video conferencing, and metaverses. Such avatars could be used to mask identities and avoid bad-hair days. Deepfakes could also allow personalisation of news and sports feeds and modeling clothes by mere mortals.”
Rather than relying solely on text-based chatbots, businesses could offer customer service through customised deepfake avatars tailored to each client.
AI-generated models could showcase products like clothing digitally without expensive photo shoots. Dynamic product demonstrations and virtual shopping experiences are also possible.
There are also opportunities to reinvent marketing and advertising creatively and cost-effectively. As Bartoletti notes, “currently, some young men gravitate toward AI girlfriends, so the film ‘Her’ is already a reality. And soon grieving families will be able to bring the dead back to life.”
Indeed, there are already firms that allow users to do this – such as Israeli start up D-ID’s Deep Nostagia project, which allows users to upload a single image and text to generate video.
While some may find this unsettling, there is clearly a demand for intimate and emotional connections with AI companions. Similarly, deepfake technology allowed the creation of a young CGI, James Dean, for a film role decades after the actor’s death. The ability to digitally revive stars and celebrities could open exciting possibilities for advertising and entertainment.
AI to advance humanity
Ultimately, realising the benefits of AI while mitigating risks requires a human-centered approach.
Bartoletti advocates education and awareness. “I believe Covid has woken people’s minds on this – albeit not enough. We all remember how much fake news was circulating, from conspiracy theories to fake remedies.
“The consequences were all too visible during the pandemic. Increased hospital admissions, fear and anxiety, erosion of trust in our public institutions, and intensification of stigma and discrimination.”
As deepfakes make misinformation more visceral and dangerous, educating the public is paramount. Regulations and technical countermeasures provide protection, but an informed populace is the first line of defense.
Rose concurs, regarding public vigilance. “Even with the best technology, public education is crucial. People need to know the capabilities of deepfakes and be skeptical of surprising videos, especially if they’re intended to incite strong emotional reactions or are not corroborated by reputable sources.”
Businesses must lead by example with transparency and ethical practices such as stamping out AI bias so that prejudices and injustices are not hard coded into future products. They should empower consumers and employees with awareness and media literacy.
Bartoletti remains cautiously optimistic about the road ahead. “We need to focus on the concrete risks of AI and take action,” she said. “The idea of an AI agency is gaining momentum at the UN.
“The AI summit in the UK will bring policymakers and businesses from all over the world. Mitigating the risk of erosion of democracy and public trust is something that we can all rally behind – even without new laws. And we must.”
Through responsible leadership, education, and global cooperation, businesses can overcome the pitfalls and fulfill the enormous promise of deep learning and AI.
The way forward requires vigilance, ethics, and open communication between tech innovators, lawmakers, researchers, and the public.
With thoughtful governance and innovation guided by shared human values, these powerful technologies could usher in a new age of creativity, access, and prosperity for all.
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