The biggest technology trend that will affect businesses in the coming years is that of synthetic media. Yet this phrase is rarely spoken in conference rooms and during Zoom meetings.
It’s time to clarify what synthetic media is and why it will have such an impact.
Synthetic media is any type of video, images, virtual objects, sounds, or words produced by or with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). This category includes deepfake content, text-prompted AI-generated “art,” virtual content in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) environments, and other new types of content.
Many synthetic media tools started out as obscure academic research or limited beta online toys. But now it’s poised to make a splash in business, marketing, media and, ultimately, human culture.
How colossal? In the book “Wrong wrong: The upcoming infocalypse”, author and synthetic media analyst Nina Schick estimates that around 90% of all online content could be synthetic media within four years.
There are very good reasons for this.
Companies need design, marketing, communication and creativity in general. Synthetic media will drive revolutionary changes in all of these spaces, accelerating them and enabling very rapid prototyping, creative content, and improved communication and design.
Futurists have wondered for decades whether AI would replace or augment the workforce. Synthetic media represents a major point in the “augmenting” ledger, expanding human capabilities and providing tools to enable humans to achieve new levels of performance.
No need to hire a spokesperson, mascot or celebrity to represent your brand. Simply create your own – or hire a synthetic human.
In fact, it is already happening. Lil Miquela is a fake person created by a Los Angeles software company called Brud. The simulated human influencer has 3 million followers on Instagram and previously did “modeling” work for Calvin Klein. The PacSun clothing store recently “hired” Lil Miquela as their new model.
And today, synthetic media is already freely available as a replacement for “stock photography” on specialized sites like Lexicon and even at the industry leader Shutterstock. These services will soon be rendered obsolete, as it will become trivial for marketers to create their own custom “stock photography”, which can match 3D characters in virtual environments.
Why People Misunderstand Synthetic Media
So far, synthetic media has been making headlines mostly around anxiety over abuse of deepfake videos. Deep impersonations of political figures saying things they never said (or celebrities superimposed on pornographic videos) dominate the headlines.
Using deepfake to cast actors – alive or dead – to their prime in perpetuity causes anxiety or joy in Hollywood, depending on whether you’re an actor who might lose his job or a movie studio executive who might be able to make blockbuster movies without paying movie stars.
Actor Bruce Willis was diagnosed with aphasia, a brain condition that, when advanced enough, makes action impossible. The actor said he will continue to act in movies and TV commercials thanks to deepfake technology. (Willis did not, as falsely reported, “sell the rights” to his animated image to Russian synthetic media company, Deepcake.)
The Willis deepfake has previously appeared in a series of Russian telecom ads, courtesy of Willis. But deepfakes of actors like Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio and tech titan Elon Musk have been used in ads without their permission.
So far, rights and permissions laws involving the use of synthetic media to impersonate real people are essentially non-existent.
Of course, deepfake technology will remain a cybersecurity issue. Deepfake audio is already impersonate CEO during calls requesting transfer of funds. And the real-time deepfake video is already used by fraudulent candidates to deceive hiring managers.
Although today’s story is that deepfake technology is a threat, tomorrow’s story is that it will be a huge boon for businesses. Because what technology takes away, technology also gives.
Companies like Deeptrace and Truepic make tools that can detect synthetic videos, and the fake detection market is just getting started. AI-powered writing tools may seem like a threat to the future jobs of journalists and author writers, but the real threat is that they will become a crutch for business peoplecausing our ability to write (and think) to atrophy in the same way as cursive writing skills.
Synthetic content will rule the “metaverse”
The world is on the verge of a revolution in various “realities” – virtual, augmented and mixed (VR, AR and MR).
Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta foresees a great pivot from old-school social networks to next-gen virtual or mixed reality, which Zuckerberg has dubbed “the Metaverse.” (Significantly, Apple is expected to enter the augmented reality market next year with its “Reality” line of glasses.)
By definition, AR, VR and MR involve digital content, either existing in a digital world (VR) or superimposed on the real world (AR). Very nearly all of this content will come in the form of synthetic media.
In fact, Meta has already introduced a new AI-powered synthetic media engine called Make a video. As with the new generation of AI-art engines, Make-A-Video uses text instructions to create videos. Meta is currently promoting this engine as a very fast way for creators to create video content or virtual environments.
Normally, a company creating, say, marketing content would have to hire a production team, pay for post-production work, hire actors, find a location — all of that. But products like Make-A-Video suggest that in the near future, a single creative could make video productions on their own in a matter of hours.
In fact, with the future of creating images, videos, and text-prompted AI objects, one can easily imagine a VR or AR meeting where concepts, charts, data, people, designs, and other content is spoken on the spot with voice commands, displayed holographically in the meeting for all participants to see.
This is just a small hypothetical example of how creating enterprise media will go from a huge project involving dozens of people, big budgets and months to a handful of people, small budgets and hours or days of time.
So while we watch with awe the rapid evolution of AI art services like Steady broadcast and dream studiowe should realize that this technology will soon be perfected, democratized and widely distributed in a way that will massively disrupt the way businesses communicate and visualize everything.
It’s time to start talking about synthetic media, and not just as a job threat, a cybersecurity threat, or an online distraction. In fact, the category will totally transform the way businesses operate. And the move to ubiquitous synthetic media will be similar to the move from mainframes to PCs – creating sophisticated content, including virtual content, will become something everyone in an organization can do quickly, easily and affordably.
The impact of AI-generated content is poised to totally disrupt business. It’s time to get real on synthetic media.
Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.