A legendary Disney and PIXAR actor was recently forced to become the celebrity endorser in ads for dental plans against his will and without so much as even his verbal consent.
As technology continues to evolve and the world population continues to explode, news of strange happenings and questionable goings-on are no longer in short supply. Over the years, it has become increasingly common to learn about bizarre things occurring in the world around us–often, bizarre things that are actually true.
But in recent months, an even more concerning phenomenon is happening–the creation of news about things taking place that has every appearance of being true . . . except that it isn’t. Welcome to the dawning of the age of AI everywhere.
The Emergence of AI in the Everyday
First described in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively, the terms robot and artificial intelligence have almost become mainstays in our vocabulary recently. Once thought of as futuristic versions of anthropomorphic–or humanlike–figures that wield weapons and seek world domination, robots are now more clearly defined as any programmable machine that replaces human effort, whether that machine bares a humanoid resemblance or not.
Since 2020, the world has seen a boom in technology development associated with, and interest and research in, artificial intelligence, or AI, following several recent breakthroughs in neural network design, as well as the availability of information and massive funding from multi-billion-dollar tech companies.
And while there’s no doubt that AI technologies could be extremely helpful–and in some cases, life-saving–for mankind, as with every new technology developed, there are ways in which the new technologies can be used maliciously and dangerously. Sometimes, as in the case of one famous Disney and PIXAR actor, artificial intelligence is being used to cheat the system–and cheat the actor as well.
Disney Actor Appears in Ads Without His Own Consent
Over the weekend, actor Tom Hanks took to Instagram to warn his fans and followers about an ad featuring his likeness, assuring them that the “person” in the ad is not him.
In a message sent out to his nearly 10 million Instagram followers, Hanks said he is appearing in an ad for a dental plan–but without his consent. “BEWARE!!” the text reads over an AI image of the 67-year-old actor. “There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it.”
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The new dental plan ad isn’t Hanks’s first experience with his likeness being used in ways that don’t involve his actual body. In 2004, Hanks’s voice and likeness were used in the popular CGI-animated Christmas fantasy film, The Polar Express, a children’s film based on the 1985 fantasy children’s book written and illustrated by American author Chris Van Allsburg.
In 2022, Hanks starred in the comical and moving drama A Man Called Otto. The film tells the story of grumpy old widower Otto Anderson whose only joy comes from stealing it from others by way of criticism and judgment. But when new neighbors move in, the old man seemingly meets his match in a young mother, and the friendship that grows between them is something neither of them expected.
Because the film looks back on Otto’s life, the two-time Oscar winner and six-time Oscar nominee likeness was de-aged by artificial intelligence for some scenes in the movie.
Tom Hanks “Saw This Coming”
In April 2023, during a podcast episode with British comedian Adam Buxton, Hanks talked about the emergence of AI, saying, “We saw this coming. We saw that there was going to be this ability to take zeros and ones inside a computer and turn them into a face and a character. Now that has only grown a billionfold since then, and we see it everywhere.”
He touched on discussions among some of Hollywood’s guilds–like those involved in recent strikes in Tinseltown–saying that discussions were already taking place about the legal ramifications of using an actor or actress’s likeness and voice without consent, as both should be viewed as the individual’s own intellectual property.
“Right now, if I wanted to, I could get together and pitch a series of seven movies that would star me in them in which I would be 32 years old from now until kingdom come,” Hanks explained. “Anybody can now recreate themselves at any age they are by way of AI or deepfake technology.”
Because of AI, Hanks said, he can easily keep acting long after he dies.
“I could be hit by a bus tomorrow, and that’s it, but performances can go on and on and on and on,” he said. “And outside of the understanding that it’s been done with AI or deepfake, there’ll be nothing to tell you that it’s not me and me alone. And it’s going to have some degree of lifelike quality. That’s certainly an artistic challenge, but it’s also a legal one.”
Hanks De-Aging Again for 2024 Film
Hanks will star in a film by Robert Zemeckis titled Here, set to debut sometime next year. In it, Hanks will play younger versions of himself, thanks to technology developed by the AI company Metaphysic. According to the AI developer, Metaphysic can create “high-resolution photorealistic face swaps and de-aging effects on top of actors’ performances live and in real-time without the need for further compositing or VFW work.”
Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Paul Bettany, Kelly Reilly, and Leslie Zemeckis, Here tells the story of the events and life journeys that have taken place over generations in a singular location in New England that was once wilderness and is now a home. Sony Pictures has planned a theatrical release of the film sometime in 2024.