The Way Celebrities Handle Their AI Rights Could Affect Us All

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The Way Celebrities Handle Their AI Rights Could Affect Us All

Salma Hayek stars in the season six opener of Netflix’s “Black Mirror.”

  • A new episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror” explores how celebrities will contend with AI replicas.
  • How to regulate these replicas has also been raised in the ongoing Hollywood strikes. 
  • The way these issues are handled for actors and performers could have an impact on everyone.

The season six premiere of the Netflix series “Black Mirror” explores a world in which humans are haunted by their AI replicas.

Amid the rapid development of AI chatbots that can mimic famous people and historical figures, the alternate reality “Black Mirror” portends seems a stone’s throw away from our own. 

The episode centers on a woman called Joan – a middle manager at a tech company who presumably lives her life out of the public eye. 

That’s why she’s shocked to discover a new series called “Joan is Awful” on a fictitious streaming platform called Streamberry. The show stars Salma Hayek, sporting the same hair, outfits, and mannerisms as Joan and acting out events from Joan’s own life. 

Joan consults her lawyer who tells her she allowed Streamberry to exploit her personal data when she accepted its terms and conditions.

She also tells Joan that the entire show is made from computer-generated-imagery. The real Salma Hayek simply licensed her image to Streamberry, so that they could use an AI-generated replica of her on the show. 

In time, it’s revealed that the woman who’s been playing Joan this whole time is actually a digital likeness of the actress Annie Murphy. In fact, the entire show is a reenactment of the life of “Source Joan” — a woman who lives somewhere in the real world. 

Actors are already tackling the question of AI doubles

Last month, thousands of actors followed screenwriters and went on strike to demand better protections from studios in regards to wages, staffing, and generative AI. One question the strikers have raised is how to regulate AI-generated replicas.

In a statement, SAG-AFTRA, the union representing more than 160,000 actors, cautioned that technology such as generative AI could leave “principal performers and background actors vulnerable to having most of their work replaced by digital replicas.” 

Some celebrities, though, are already embracing a world in which they may coexist with their AI replicas. 

According to a report by The Information, “many stars and agents are quietly taking meetings with AI companies to explore their options.” 

On the one hand, AI replicas could present new monetization options for big-name celebrities to license their intellectual property, per the report. At the same time, they could also amplify the number of ways a celebrity could tarnish their brand. 

“Part of my job is to go through and approve every single photograph of my clients,” one entertainment manager told The Information. “If they were to have digital doubles, that would expose them to so much more brand risk.” 

What does this mean for the rest of us?

As the “Black Mirror” episode suggests, regular people may soon have to contend with managing their own digital likenesses as well.

Soul Machines, a New Zealand-based company, is one among a handful of companies using AI to make “digital people,” according to its website.

A spokesperson for Soul Machines told Insider by email that the company has a product called the Digital DNA Studio that allows “anyone to design and create an autonomously-animated Digital Person in minutes that they can attach to GPT or another LLM to enable real-time conversations.” The spokesperson added that Soul Machines creator packages start at $39 a month with the first month free. On the company’s website, though, packages go as high as $399 a month. 

In an episode of the podcast “In Machines We Trust,” Greg Cross, the CEO and cofounder of Soul Machines, explained how the company creates its avatars.

“We think about high-quality CGI or avatar-type animation it’s all human-acted content. So, human actors play the role of the avatars, they get captured by these incredibly specialized cameras, the data gets processed, and the data is used to bring the avatar to life,” he said, adding that AI’s become a big part of the company’s approach. 

A 2021 report from The Verge noted that Soul Machines mostly makes “people” for customer service and digital outreach. However, Soul Machines has also digitized celebrities like NBA player Carmelo Anthony, K-pop star Mark Tuan, and golfer Jack Nicklaus, according to its site. 

Carmelo Anthony’s image has been digitized by Soul Machines.
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images

Meanwhile, Remington Scott, the founder of another “digital human” company called Hyperreal, already has a digital version of himself.

Scott told The Information: “I don’t know if I’ll be around for my grandkids, but I will be around for my grandkids in many ways. People will be able to control their digital source code for future generations of their families. And you can get to know a grandpa who wasn’t there.”

Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.

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