In a recent survey, 50% of participants said they felt “optimistic and informed” about artificial intelligence, while the other half felt “fearful and uninformed.”
YouTube’s new series may tip your personal feelings one way or the other.
Hosted by Robert Downey Jr., The Age of A.I. is an 8-part docu-series exploring different facets of A.I., from uses in the medical field to augmenting human capabilities. The show neither exalts nor condemns where A.I. is headed in society—it simply raises the what-ifs and takes a look at the people pushing the technology forward, such as Soul Machines.
Soul Machines is a deep science and technology company known for creating hyperrealistic avatars equipped with machine learning. And in episode 1 of The Age of A.I., will.i.am, frontman and cofounder of Black Eyed Peas and consulting producer for the series, decided to create his own 3D avatar. Throughout the process, he highlights the wow factor of the final result and explores the ethical concerns a 3D avatar could create.
Through his consumer electronics company, i.am+, will.i.am was already connected with Soul Machines via their common investor, Horizons Ventures. When the musician and Downey began collaborating on The Age of A.I., they thought about how they could make the technology more visual. Soon enough, will.i.am was getting his exact measurements taken and his voice captured and undergoing a multitude of photo and video shoots to create his digital twin.
“It’s thrilling and eerie to watch yourself up close, as my digital double moves like I do, sounds like me, and speaks in the same patterns as I do,” he says. “The concern about creating a perfect digital replica of me, including my voice, is around the emerging category of deepfake video technology.”
In the episode, will.i.am goes so far as to say he doesn’t want his avatar to sound exactly like him, so he can maintain some distance between what’s IRL and what’s digital.
“Building the first autonomous animated celebrity avatar of will.i.am could not have been more perfect,” says Greg Cross, chief business officer of Soul Machines. “will.i.am totally gets the opportunity for his digital twin to experience a ‘personal’ interaction with his millions of fans all around the world. He is definitely a deep thinker about what the future of A.I. means and its implications, so he was the perfect guy to collaborate with on this project.”
Of course, even with deepfake technology, there are ways of sussing out impostor videos. And the avatars from Soul Machines, as advanced as they are, still look like avatars: The mouth movements aren’t as dynamic as humans’, skin textures are realistic but not lifelike, and so on. However, it’s only a matter of time before technology advances to a place where that line becomes thinner. Setting boundaries now, or at the very least having these discussions, is increasingly important.
But will.i.am isn’t sounding the alarm just yet—because for every concern there’s also a positive use case.
“Hollywood movies have created a climate of irrational fear about A.I. in general, where the negative aspects receive more airtime than the good things A.I. can do in healthcare, education, and making people’s jobs easier when it comes to repetitive tasks,” he says. “That’s why I was keen to team up with Robert Downey Jr. to work on our series. Even better, the series is available and free to all, on a global basis on YouTube Learning, so everyone can watch and find about what is happening in the A.I. space now, and the exciting things that are ahead.”