Millions of TV viewers across South Korea watching latest news by a deepfake anchor

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Months ago, millions of TV viewers across South Korea were watching the MBN channel to catch the latest news.

At the top of the hour, regular news anchor Kim Joo-Ha started to go through the day’s headlines. It was a relatively normal list of stories for late 2020 – full of Covid-19 and pandemic response updates.

Yet this particular bulletin was far from normal, as Kim Joo-Ha wasn’t actually on the screen. Instead she had been replaced by a “deepfake” version of herself – a computer-generated copy that aims to perfectly reflect her voice, gestures and facial expressions.

Viewers had been informed beforehand that this was going to happen, and South Korean media reported a mixed response after people had seen it. While some people were amazed at how realistic it was, others said they were worried that the real Kim Joo-Ha might lose her job.

MBN said it would continue to use the deepfake for some breaking news reports, while the firm behind the artificial intelligence technology – South Korean company Moneybrain – said it would now be looking for other media buyers in China and the US.

When most people think of deepfakes, they imagine fake videos of celebrities. In fact, only last week one such bogus – but very lifelike – video of Tom Cruise made headlines around the world after it appeared on TikTok.

Despite the negative connotations surrounding the colloquial term deepfakes (people don’t usually want to be associated with the word “fake”), the technology is increasingly being used commercially.

More politely called AI-generated videos, or synthetic media, usage is growing rapidly in sectors including news, entertainment and education, with the technology becoming increasingly sophisticated.

One of the early commercial adopters has been Synthesia, a London-based firm that creates AI-powered corporate training videos for the likes of global advertising firm WPP and business consultancy Accenture.

“This is the future of content creation,” says Synthesia chief executive and co-founder Victor Riparbelli.

To make an AI-generated video using Synthesia’s system you simply pick from a number of avatars, type in the word you wish for them to say, and that is pretty much it.

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