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  • Robert Farago

Volkswagen's Brazilian AI Ad - I See Dead People!

This is a problem?

A Volkswagen ad in Brazil is making waves (video after the jump). In the ad, Brazilian singer Elis Regina Carvalho Costa performs her hit Como Nossos Pais – Like Our Parents – in a duet with her daughter Maria Rita. The talking point: Regina’s been dead for 41 years.

On January 19, 1982, at the tender age of 36, when her daughter was just four-years-old, Regina shuffled off this mortal coil. Her heart stopped beating after consuming a lethal cocktail of vermouth, cocaine and tranquilizers.

VW’s ad mavens used AI to resurrect the singer, plunk her behind the wheel of a modern VW minivan (yes America, they exist) and get her smiling and singing like she doesn’t have a care in the world. Which she doesn’t, really.

VW says the ad required 2400 hours to produce. Thirty-three million YouTube views in two weeks, perched atop seven thousand love letters in the form of comments, says the deepfake celebration of VW’s 70 years in Brazil was a viral victory for Vee-Dub.

Brazil’s first lady, Rosângela Lula da Silva, tweeted she was "crying my eyes out,” after seeing the video.

The only ad that would have been more emotional: if the German car company had AI’ed Brazil’s most famous German immigrant – Josef “Angel of Death” Mengele – at the helm, singing Springtime for Hitler.

Now that I’ve evoked Godwin’s Law, let it be known Regina would have been appalled by the AI ad.

Touring Europe in 1969, the singer publicly criticized Brazil's military dictatorship. When she returned to her homeland, the regime threatened to jail her (and worse) if she didn’t sing the Brazilian national anthem at an event honoring the coup’s anniversary. She hated the fact that she acquiesced.

In 2020, a Brazilian government investigation revealed that Volkswagen was one of several corporations that secretly collaborated with the junta to identify suspected “subversives” and trade unionists. Whose subsequent fate was none too pretty, including blacklisting, torture and execution.

VW apologized and paid R5.5m to human rights groups ($1.42m in today’s money, adjusted for 24 percent inflation to date). Would Regina have let bygones be bygones and approved the ad? Her surviving family did. Royalty payments unspecified.

The controversy surrounding the ad in Brazil – if you’d even call it that – focuses on AI deep fakery in general. “Questions have been raised over whether it might cause some to confuse fiction with reality, above all children and teenagers,” Brazil’s advertising authority announced.

Yes, well, deal with it. The VW deepfake AI ad confirms the fact that we’re barreling down to road to Strawberry Fields, where nothing is real.

Saying that, human emotion is as real as it gets. AI isn’t just for facial recognition anymore. It’s a damn useful tool for exploiting emotions. For money and power? Duh!

If I had enough money and power, I’d deep fake João Figueiredo singing The Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime while driving a six-wheel Mercedes G-Wagon. Same as it ever was? A question worth asking.

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