A strategy manifesto from one of China’s biggest tech companies declares, amid familiar visions of ubiquitous AI, that deepfakes are more boon than bane.

What’s new: A white paper issued by Tencent outlines AI’s growing impact on the global economy, particularly in media. The company argues that photorealistic images of people who don’t exist (like the portraits above, generated by thispersondoesnotexist.com), along with manipulation of images of people who do, have tremendous commercial potential despite their reputation for making mischief.

The bright side: The paper argues that what it calls deepfake synthesis — the basket of AI techniques capable of synthesizing realistic human faces, voices, and bodies, as well as other objects — could yield a range of economic and social benefits. It’s already being applied for legitimate purposes:

  • Deepfake technology has been used in the movie industry to produce body doubles of deceased actors and to match motions of an actor’s mouth to voiceovers in various languages.
  • It has fueled the rise of apps that let users alter their own appearance or swap faces, such as FaceAPP and Zao.
  • E-commerce companies are using similar tools to provide shoppers with virtual views of themselves wearing different outfits.
  • Project Revoice uses neural sound synthesis to re-create the voices of people who no longer can speak due to conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Beyond fakery: The company’s vision for AI isn’t just about digital doppelgangers. The paper argues that techniques like few-shot learning and offline reinforcement learning could drive broader commercialization in disciplines like natural computer vision, language processing, and voice recognition. The company also looks to AI to help improve crop yields and balance energy demand.

Behind the news: Tencent has a vested interest in promoting AI. The white paper accompanied the release of specialized machine learning platforms for entertainment, broadcasting, content review, and industrial processes, as well as Light 2.0, a program that encourages commercialization of AI research.

Why it matters: Tencent is among China’s most valuable tech companies with a strong presence in gaming, entertainment, and media. Its plans influence the direction of technology as well the attitudes of regulators who would bind it. Its push to commercialize deepfakes could open new markets — and thorny issues — for the AI community.

We’re thinking: Deepfakes have potential uses in online education, such as enabling an instructor on video to deliver a course in any number of languages. But, as the paper itself notes, regulation is necessary to thwart potential abuses.


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