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Artificial intelligence

The owner of WeChat thinks deepfakes could actually be good

It wants to commercialize the technology in entertainment and e-commerce and asks regulators to be lenient.
July 28, 2020
deepfake news anchor
deepfake news anchor
Ms Tech | Artbreeder, Pixabay

The news: In a new white paper about its plans for AI, translated by China scholars Jeffrey Ding and Caroline Meinhardt, Tencent, the owner of WeChat and one of China’s three largest tech giants, emphasizes that deepfake technology is “not just about ‘faking’ and ‘deceiving,’ but a highly creative and groundbreaking technology.” It urges regulators to “be prudent” and to avoid clamping down on its potential benefits to society.

The examples: Tencent listed five examples of what it perceives as beneficial applications of deepfake technology that already exist or could soon exist today:

  • For enhancing TV and film production. The technology has already been used to let deceased actors appear in new movies, such as Fast and Furious 7, and could be further developed to create body doubles for stunts and other purposes. It could also be used to automatically generate voice-overs in different languages to increase the global distribution of movies.
  • For personalizing entertainment. As the viral app Zao showed last year, deepfake technology can be used to face-swap users into movies or video games. It could create a new genre of hyper-personalized entertainment.
  • For improving e-commerce. The technology is already being used to generate virtual models of different body types and ethnicities, as well as to let users digitally try on clothes for a more interactive online shopping experience.
  • For creating realistic virtual avatars. It has already been used to generate three-dimensional digital humans to perform as virtual pop stars and TV anchors, and to bring historical figures into virtual reality. It could also be combined with computer vision and natural-language understanding to create smart digital assistants capable of natural interactions.
  • For helping patients. Finally, the technology has shown potential for helping those affected by chronic illness. For example, it has allowed people who have lost their voice to ALS to communicate by using a deepfake of it.

Why it matters: Tencent says it’s already working to advance some of these applications. This will likely spur its competitors to do the same if they haven’t yet, and influence the direction of Chinese startups eager to be acquired. As a member of China’s “AI national team,” which the government created as part of its overall AI strategy, the company also has significant sway among regulators who want to help foster the industry’s growth.

Any concerns? Tencent acknowledges that deepfake technology can cause harm, particularly in its use for face-swapping people into pornography. But the company is forcefully optimistic that it “will not topple society’s truths, much less pose a threat to the world order.” Of course, that’s easy to say for a company that stands to benefit significantly from the technology’s commercialization.

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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