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  • Robert Farago

The Eternal Sunshine of the AI Captured Actor

AI means never having to say you're dead

“Our members are human beings, not puppets,” the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists asserts ahead of a looming strike. “It is a violation to use AI technology to make them do or say something without their informed consent.” Deep fake rape! You gotta pay to play! SAG-AFTRA has a point. Now more than ever…

Back in 2106, Lucasfilm famously deployed CGI to recreate a young Princess Leia for Rogue One. Flash forward to 2020. In 24 hours, using an $800 PC and 500 images of Carrie Fisher from the original Star Wars movies, our man Shamook made Leia properly “real.”

If you don’t think AI “deep fake” technology has improved in the last three years, you haven’t been paying attention. Either that or present day AI’s so good you didn’t notice. The faux Wes Anderson Lord of the Rings trailer below may not be the best example of what’s possible, but it ain’t half bad.

With AI, you can make anything portraying anyone. Yes but – the actors in the Anderson homage were neither consulted nor paid for their image or likeness. In the same way no one cut Scarlett Johansson a check for deep fake porn. reports that the fabulously wealthy actress is something of an outlier. She doesn’t share her union’s concern.

This doesn’t affect me as much because people assume it’s not actually me in a porno,. I think it’s a useless pursuit, legally, mostly because the internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself. Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired. There are basically no rules on the internet because it is an abyss that remains virtually lawless. I think it’s up to an individual to fight for their own right to their image, claim damages, etc.

Not a quote to warm the cockles of SAG-AFTRA’s heart (assuming they have one). But the actors’ union knows the score. Literally. There’s a TON of money on the table, now and forevermore. AI deep fakes defeat the one enemy previously guaranteed to kill an actor’s ability to earn: time.

Digitized actors never age. Or get fat. At some point (I’m thinking next Thursday), they may not have to sober-up enough to show up on set. Meanwhile, not even the Grim Reaper can end their career. Paychecks will continue to flow – if not increase – after the Big Sleep.

Some performers, such as James Earl Jones, have agreed to have their voices cloned for use after their deaths. Jones, 92, famously voiced Darth Vader in the Star Wars franchise and sought to wind down from the role. Jones was compensated and the technology was used to bring Vader’s iconic voice to Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

In The Modeling Industry is Dead, I pronounced TOD for professional clothes horses. In contrast, I see great things for thespians. Well, some of them. Once an actor wins a place in the audience’s heart (a.k.a., becomes a movie star), career longevity is more-or-less-assured.

The problem: aging actors made way for new actors. Ageless make that eternal AI movie stars decrease the demand for wannabes. Rich actors will get richer while poor actors will be condemned to wait tables and #metoo until they age out. Unless…

They digitize themselves before they slide down the slippery slope of time and lose their looks. And send their younger digital self to auditions via email. Then again, why wouldn’t a studio save time and hassle and ask AI to create a digital movie star based on marketing data?

In short, SAG-AFTRA, you’re wrong. Actors are puppets. The trick: make sure they pull their own strings, financially speaking. And find a way to stop studios from creating AI actors out of whole cloth. Either that or sign them up for union membership. Right?

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