AI Company Co-Founder Addresses Ethics of Tom Cruise 'Deepfake' Videos

It started as an art project, then the Tom Cruise "deepfake" videos went viral on TikTok. Now a co-founder of an artificial intelligence (AI) software company, created after the viral videos aired, wants people to be more aware of the technology and how they can protect their digital identities.

Blockchain technology, which is immutable, may be just such a tool, Tom Graham, of AI software company Metaphysic, told CoinDesk TV’s “First Mover” on Wednesday.

“Of all the technologies, distributed systems that help individuals manage their own identity … that’s a really important step in the process of empowering individuals to be in control of who they are in this emerging hyper-real metaverse,” Graham said.

The London-based startup, which recently raised $7.5 million in a founding round, develops infrastructure and technology to expand artificial intelligence-based content, Graham said. But he wants the firm to expand in an “ethical, safe and responsible way.”

That, however, may be a challenge, Graham said, because AI-generated content such as deepfakes could be crossing an ethical line. Deepfakes are a form of manipulated media that can make anyone appear to be doing or saying anything – for instance, Tom Cruise, who was depicted by a person digitally altered to resemble the actor in the TikTok videos.

Walking the ethical line is especially tricky for the company because the Cruise deepfakes began as an art project by co-founder Christopher Ume before the company was formed.

It "was begun with the purpose of generating awareness for manipulated media, and the potential for what could happen," said Graham of the videos. "Obviously [deepfake] Tom Cruise is kind of irreverent, fun, entertaining content. When it suddenly blew up we contacted Tom Cruise's team and ultimately they didn't have an issue."

Tom Cruise portrayer Miles Fisher (left) and the real Tom Cruise (Getty Images)

Tom Cruise is not an average person but it is possible images of anyone, without their consent, can be manipulated using AI and become the next TikTok sensation.

Celebrities have lawyers, Graham said, “but what about regular people?”

So finding a way for individuals to own and control their identities "should be our central purpose" as a society, he said.

For now, Graham said, his company is “at the forefront of trying to noodle out how to let people protect themselves in this emerging future.”

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