Deepfake Of Tom Cruise Has Everyone Freaking Out Prematurely
from the not-deep-enough-yet dept
You may have heard that in recent days a series of deepfake videos appeared on TikTok of a fake Tom Cruise looking very Tom-Cruise-ish all while doing mostly non-Tom-Cruise-ish things. After that series of short videos came out, the parties responsible for producing them, Chris Ume and Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher, put out a compilation video sort of showing how this was all done.
As you can see, this was all done in the spirit of educating the public on what is possible with this kind of technology and, you know, fun. Unfortunately, some folks out there aren’t finding any fun in this at all. Instead, there is a certain amount of understandable fear for how this technology might disrupt our lives that is leading to less understandable conclusions about what we should do about it.
For instance, some folks apparently think that deepfake outputs should be considered the intellectual property of those who are the subjects of the deepfakes.
A recent deepfake of Hollywood star “Tom Cruise” sparked a bombshell after looking very close to real. Now it has been claimed they are on their way to becoming so good, that families of the dead should own the copyright of their loved ones in deepfakes.
Lilian Edwards, a professor of law and expert in the technology, says the law hasn’t been fully established yet. She believes many will claim they should own the rights, while some may not.
She told BBC: “For example, if a dead person is used, such as (the actor) Steve McQueen or (the rapper) Tupac, there is an ongoing debate about whether their family should own the rights (and make an income from it).”
Now, I want to be somewhat generous here, but this is still a terrible idea. Let’s just break this down practically. In the interest of being fair, it is understandable that people would be creeped out by deepfake creations of either their dead relatives or themselves. Let’s call that a given. But why is the response to that to try to inject some kind of strange intellectual property right into all of this? Why should Steve McQueen’s descendants have some right to control this kind of output? And why are we using McQueen and Tupac as the examples here, given that both are public figures? What problem does this solve?
The answer would be, I think: control over the likeness rights of a person. But such control is both fraught with potential for overreach and over-protection coupled with a history of a total lack of nuance in what should not be considered infringing behavior or what is fair use. Techdirt’s pages are littered with examples of this. Add to all of this that purveyors of deepfakes are quite often internationally located, anonymous, and unlikely to pay the slightest attention to the kind of image likeness rights being bandied about, and you really have to wonder why we’re even entertaining this subject.
And then there are the people who think this Tom Cruise deepfake means that soon we’ll simply have no functional legal system at all.
The CEO of Amber, a video verification site, believes deepfake evidence will raise reasonable doubt. Mr Allibhai told us: “Deepfakes are getting really good, really fast.
“I am worried about both aural/visual evidence being manipulated and also just the fact that when believable fake videos exist, they will delegitimise genuine evidence and defendants will raise reasonable doubt. When the former happens, innocent people will go to jail and when the latter happens, criminals will be set free. Due process will be compromised and a core foundation of democracy is undermined. Judges will drop cases, not necessarily because they believe jurors will be unable to tell the difference: they themselves, and most humans for that matter, will be unable to tell the difference between fact and fiction soon.”
Folks, we really need to slow our roll here. Deepfake technology is progressing. And it’s not progressing slowly, but nor is it making insane leaps heretofore unforeseen. The collapse of the legal system as a result of nobody being able to tell truth from fiction may well come one day, but it certainly won’t be coming as a result of the harbinger of a Tom Cruise deepfake.
In fact, you really have to dial in on how the Cruise videos were made to understand how unique they are.
The Tom Cruise fakes, though, show a much more beneficial use of the technology: as another part of the CGI toolkit. Ume says there are so many uses for deepfakes, from dubbing actors in film and TV, to restoring old footage, to animating CGI characters. What he stresses, though, is the incompleteness of the technology operating by itself. Creating the fakes took two months to train the base AI models (using a pair of NVIDIA RTX 8000 GPUs) on footage of Cruise, and days of further processing for each clip. After that, Ume had to go through each video, frame by frame, making small adjustments to sell the overall effect; smoothing a line here and covering up a glitch there. “The most difficult thing is making it look alive,” he says. “You can see it in the eyes when it’s not right.”
Ume says a huge amount of credit goes to Fisher; a TV and film actor who captured the exaggerated mannerisms of Cruise, from his manic laugh to his intense delivery. “He’s a really talented actor,” says Ume. “I just do the visual stuff.” Even then, if you look closely, you can still see moments where the illusion fails, as in the clip below where Fisher’s eyes and mouth glitch for a second as he puts the sunglasses on.
This isn’t something where we’re pushing a couple of buttons and next thing you know you’re seeing Tom Cruise committing a homicide. Instead, creating these kinds of deepfakes takes time, hardware, skill, and, in this case, a talented actor who already looked like the subject of the deepfake. It’s a good deepfake, don’t get me wrong. But it is neither easy to make nor terribly difficult to spot clues for what it is.
All of which isn’t to say that deepfakes might not someday present problems. I actually have no doubt that they will. But as with every other kind of new technology, you’re quite likely to hear a great deal of exaggerated warnings and fears compared with what those challenges will actually be.