Synthetic media or deepfake technology has earned a bad reputation for its use in disinformation and propaganda. However, some companies and institutions are using this broad technology to enhance services, create better training programs, and offer assistive tools.
Corporate synthetic media context
Numerous versions of synthetic media content produced or modified by artificial intelligence (AI), usually through machine learning and deep learning, are increasingly being adopted for a wide range of business use cases. As of 2022, these applications comprise virtual assistants, chatbots that create text and speech, and virtual personas, including computer-generated Instagram influencer Lil Miquela, KFC’s Colonel Sanders 2.0, and Shudu, the digital supermodel.
Synthetic media is changing how people create and experience content. Although it may seem like AI will replace human creators, this technology will likely democratize creativity and content innovation instead. In particular, continued innovations in synthetic media production tools/platforms will enable ever more people to produce higher-quality content without needing blockbuster film budgets.
Already, companies are taking advantage of what synthetic media has to offer. In 2022, the transcription startup Descript provided a service that allows users to change lines of dialogue spoken in a video or podcast by editing the text script. Meanwhile, AI startup Synthesia enables firms to create staff training videos in multiple languages by choosing from various presenters and uploaded scripts (2022).
Furthermore, AI-generated avatars can be used for more than just entertainment. The HBO documentary Welcome to Chechnya (2020), a film about the persecuted LGBTQ community in Russia, utilized deepfake technology to overlay the interviewees’ faces with those of actors to protect their identity. Digital avatars also show the potential to reduce bias and discrimination during the recruitment process, especially for companies open to hiring remote workers.
As of 2021, the application of deepfake technology offers promise in the accessibility field, creating novel tools that enable people with disabilities to become more independent. For instance, in 2022, Microsoft’s Seeing.ai and Google’s Lookout powered personalized assistive navigation apps for pedestrian travel. These navigation apps use AI for recognition and synthetic voice to narrate objects, people, and the environment. Another example is the Canetroller (2020), a haptic cane controller that can help visually impaired people navigate virtual reality by simulating cane interactions. This technology can enable people with visual impairments to navigate a virtual environment by transferring real-world skills into the virtual world, making it more equitable and empowering.
In the synthetic voice space, in 2018, researchers began developing artificial voices for people with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that affects the nerve cells responsible for voluntary muscle movement. A synthetic voice will allow people with ALS to communicate and stay connected with their loved ones. The foundation Team Gleason, established for Steve Gleason, a former football player with ALS, provides technology, equipment, and services for people living with the disease. They are also working with other companies to enable the development of AI-generated synthetic media scenarios specifically for individuals dealing with ALS.
Meanwhile, voicebank tech startup VOCALiD uses proprietary voice blending technology to create unique vocal personas for any device that turns text into speech for those with hearing and speech difficulties. Deepfake voice can also be used in therapies for people with speech impediments since birth.
Implications of corporate synthetic media applications
Wider implications of synthetic media in everyday work and applications may include:
- Companies using synthetic media to interact with multiple clients simultaneously, using multiple languages.
- Universities offering digital persona platforms to welcome new students and provide wellness and study programs in different formats.
- Firms incorporating synthetic trainers for online and self-training programs.
- Synthetic assistants being increasingly available for people with impairments and mental health disorders to serve as their guides and personal therapists.
- The rise of the next-generation metaverse AI influencers, celebrities, artists, and athletes.
Questions to comment on
- If you have tried synthetic media technology, what are its benefits and limitations?
- What are the other potential uses of this broad technology for companies and schools?