Leary can juggle so many jobs in so many countries because she hired her face for Hour One, a startup that uses human likenesses to create AI voice characters that then appear in marketing and educational videos for organizations around the world. It is part of a wave of companies reviewing the way digital content is produced. And this has big consequences for human labor.
Leary makes a waitress and bar job in person, but has no idea what her digital clones do. “It’s definitely a little weird to think that my face can appear in videos or commercials for different companies,” she says.
Hour One is not the only company turning technology into deep fake technology, using it to create mixtures of real frames and AI-generated video. Some have used professional actors add life to deeply tailored personalities. But Hour One doesn’t require any special skills. You just have to be willing to hand over the rights to your face.
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Hour One builds a group of what he calls “heroes.” He says there are about 100 in his books so far, with more being added each week. “We have a queue of people who are dying to become these heroes,” said Natalie Monbiot, the company’s strategy manager.
Anyone can apply to become a hero. Like a modeling agency, Hour One filters out candidates by selecting the ones it wants in its books. The company aims for a broad sample of characters that reflect the age, gender and racial background of people in the real world, Monbiot said. (Currently, about 80% of the characters are under the age of 50, 70% are women, and 25% are white.)
To create a character, Hour One uses a high-resolution 4K camera to capture a person talking and making different facial expressions in front of a green screen. And that’s all for the human part of the show. By incorporating the data into artificial intelligence software that works in a similar way to deep counterfeiting technology, Hour One can generate an infinite number of frames of that person saying what he wants in any language.
Hour One customers pay the company to use its characters in advertising or commercial video. They choose a person, upload the text they want to say, and return a video of what looks like a real person delivering that script to a camera. The fastest service uses text-to-speech software to generate synthetic voices that synchronize with the characters’ mouth movements and facial expressions. Hour One also offers a first-class service where the audio is recorded by professional voice actors. These voices again fit into the movements of the character in the video. Hour One says it has more than 40 clients, including real estate, e-commerce, digital health and entertainment companies. One big client is Berlitz, an international language school that offers teacher-led video courses in dozens of languages.
According to Monbiot, Berlitz wanted to increase the number of videos on offer, but tried to do so with the help of real human actors. They had to have production teams to create the same setting with the same actor over and over again, she says: “They found it really unsustainable. We are talking about thousands of videos. “
Berlitz now works with Hour One to generate hundreds of videos in minutes. “We’re replacing the studio,” says Monbiot. “A human being shouldn’t waste his time shooting.”