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Deepfakes of Your Dead Loved Ones Are a Booming Chinese Business

9 May 2024 8:06 AM | Anonymous

Every week, Sun Kai engages in a video conference with his mother. He candidly discusses his career, the challenges he encounters as a middle-aged individual, and thoughts that he refrains from sharing with his spouse. Occasionally, his mother will offer a remark, such as reminding him to look after his well-being, given he is her sole offspring. However, primarily, she predominantly engages in the act of listening. That is due to the fact that Sun's mother passed away five years ago. Furthermore, the individual with whom he is conversing is not a human being, but rather a digital clone that he has created of her - a dynamic visual representation capable of engaging in rudimentary dialogues. They have engaged in conversation for several years. Following her untimely demise in 2019, Sun sought to discover a means of perpetuating their connection. Therefore, he sought assistance from a group of professionals at Silicon Intelligence, an artificial intelligence (AI) firm located in Nanjing, China, which he helped establish in 2017. He furnished them with a photograph of her and many audio excerpts from their WeChat dialogues. Although the company primarily concentrated on audio generation, the employees dedicated four months to investigating synthetic methods and successfully created an avatar using the data provided by Sun. Subsequently, he gained the capability to visually perceive and engage in conversation with a virtual representation of his mother through a mobile application.

"Although my mom didn't appear authentic, I still managed to hear her frequently uttered words: 'Have you consumed a meal?'" 

Due to the early stage of development of generative AI, the clone of his mother is only capable of uttering a limited number of pre-determined phrases. However, Sun Kai asserts that this is consistent with her natural demeanor. "She would incessantly reiterate those inquiries, causing me profound emotional distress upon hearing them," he states. There is a considerable number of individuals, similar to Sun, who desire to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) in order to conserve, enliven, and engage with deceased loved ones as they grieve and seek solace. In China, the market for these technologies is thriving, with several companies already providing them and a significant number of individuals having already made payments for their use. Indeed, avatars are the most recent embodiment of a cultural practice: throughout history, Chinese individuals have consistently found comfort in seeking counsel from deceased individuals.

Although not flawless, the technology for avatars is advancing and getting more refined, with an increasing number of tools being offered by various companies. Consequently, the cost of reviving an individual, commonly referred to as achieving "digital immortality" in the Chinese sector, has experienced a substantial decrease. Now, this technology is becoming readily available to the entire population. There is skepticism among certain individuals regarding the therapeutic value of engaging with AI duplicates of deceased individuals, and the legal and ethical consequences of this technology remain uncertain. Currently, the concept continues to evoke discomfort among a significant number of individuals. However, according to Sima Huapeng, the CEO and co-founder of Silicon Intelligence, even if only a small fraction, such as 1%, of the Chinese population is willing to embrace the concept of AI cloning of deceased individuals, it would still represent a significant market.

You can read more in an article written by Zeyi Yang published in the web site at:


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