Metaphysic, the startup founded in London, UK, on a tech demo used to create convincing deepfakes of Tom Cruise that went viral on social media app TikTok, is taking its tech and business offerings to the next level.
The company this week announced the launch of Metaphysic PRO, a new tier to its current AI-powered digital twinning technology that aims to help performers secure the copyright over, and monetize their digital likeness.
According to an email provided exclusively to VentureBeat from Metaphysic CEO and co-founder Tom Graham, the new PRO tier aims to “help people build a portfolio of their important data assets for the purpose of 1. creating generative AI content in the future, specifically tailored to generative AI content and 2. empower them to own and control the fundamental building blocks of their AI likeness — that being the data used to train the models beyond face voice and performance, how you move, etc.”
Put another way, Metaphysic PRO wants to offer the technology platform for people to store and manage all of the many different types of digital files that would be needed to recreate a person digitally, in 3D, for the purposes of performances and interactivity — including the audio files of their voice, movements via motion capture, even their favorite catchphrases, conversational topics, and the spaces they inhabit.
“Metaphysic PRO helps people store that data, and then on top of that helps people manage the process of giving that data to third parties for the use,” wrote Graham to VentureBeat.
Essentially, Metaphysic PRO is offering a content, rights management and monetization system for the digital self.
Software vs. hardware vs. content management
What kinds of data are needed to create a fully digital likeness of someone? Metaphysic’s website FAQ offers some insight: “If we are trying to create an AI model of a person’s face — then we need substantial visual data, in the form of videos and images, of that person’s face — from all angles and in different lighting conditions. The AI algorithms are very smart, but still require real world imagery to learn from. A good size training dataset for a face model might be made up of at least 5 minutes of good quality video of the person.”
Metaphysic’s chief breakthrough is the AI software that processes this video and turns it into a 3D digital reproduction, as well as records the performer’s voice and interprets it to be used for future speaking or signing without having the original performer have to do it themselves.
As the FAQ states, “Metaphysic has developed special AI scans that focus on capturing every detail of how your face moves and how your expressions are formed when talking, laughing and acting naturally. This data is used by the AI to learn how you look in any situation and render that in content. You can not create good AI models using data from traditional 3D scans.”
Yet in order to even get to the point that Metaphysic’s software can create these AI models, you first need to scan a person using specialized hardware — not just any regular video will do.
Metaphysic did not specify if it creates any hardware for this purpose — such as the 360-degree camera arrays used by other 3D scanning companies. However, Graham did tell VentureBeat that the PRO tier “will include a full professional studio scan storage of large amounts of data.”
High-profile celebrities already onboard
The company says it already counts celebrity customers including Tom Hanks and his actor spouse Rita Wilson; Anne Hathaway; Octavia Spencer; Paris Hilton; and the athlete and model Maria Sharapova.
However, despite these high-profile celebrity endorsements, controversy remains around the use of 3D scanning and AI technologies in Hollywood and the entertainment industry.
In particular, background actors (also known as “extras”) have expressed concerns that they have already been scanned on film sets and their likeness signed away to film studios to be used however they wish, potentially eliminating the need to hire the actors for more than a single day of work.
Metaphysic, for its part, believes its approach allows actors to retain control over their likeness — giving them the power and legal right to do with it what the actor sees fit.
“We are trying to empower people to fight unauthorized, deep fakes posted on internet platforms around the world,” Graham wrote.
This is especially an issue for performers in Hollywood and the adult industry, who are already having their likenesses deepfaked and cloned by other AI tools for unauthorized uses.
Copyrighting the digital self
One of the most contentious issues around generative AI broadly has been that of copyright.
While U.S. copyright law has for most of the nation’s history sought to protect human creative works (initially maps and charts, then gradually expanded to art and other creative products), the U.S. Copyright Office has recently and repeatedly ruled that AI generated work is not eligible for copyright because it was not created primarily by a human being.
How then, does Metaphysic plan to allow actors and performers to copyright their digital likenesses made through the help of AI?
“We designed the process of creating photorealistic AI likenesses of people directly in response to these exact circulars and missives from the [U.S.] Copyright Office,” wrote Graham to VentureBeat in his email. He continued:
“Basically, at every step along the way, we insert significant human effort and work and very significant control from the person who is creating it, along with Metaphysic, helping them on a work-for-hire basis…and that I believe is the same as creating a character no different than if you were creating it on Photoshop or designing it yourself using technology. So that’s the premise and that’s why it’s different than some of the other responses to people trying to copyright AI generated content.”
Metaphysic’s argument in favor of people being able to copyright their AI-generated likeness is, as Graham puts it, there is enough human labor in the process to warrant it. But also, that the resulting generated character is unique because it is of that unique person themselves.
“This photorealistic AI version is a piece of manmade work,” he wrote. “It’s like a character. It’s just a character that happens to look exactly like you.”
This argument has yet to be tested in a court case, but it will of course be interesting to find out if it holds up.
Separately but relatedly, it may come down to the Supreme Court of the U.S. to decide the specifics around whether popular AI programs themselves violated copyright by using copyrighted materials to train on (though Metaphysic is not among those vendors accused of doing so).
Pricing, security features, and availability
Metaphysic is pursuing a subscription model for its AI digital twin management service in the range of “$8,000 to $10,000 per year,” according to Graham, depending on the size of the scan and different assets created to support it. That’s likely beyond the scope of most working background actors/extras, some of whom are already running out of money due to the ongoing Hollywood strikes.
The company did not specify to VentureBeat if it intends to take a cut of any AI digital twins that are licensed out using its software.
It says users ultimately their Metaphysic PRO files, but Metaphysic will create and store them using “enterprise-grade security end-to-end,” including “raw image and audio data from any AI data scans or recordings,” that Metaphysic conducts, or that the user uploads themselves from other third-party scanners and sources.
It further says it encrypts its data of user’s likenesses and offers two-factor authentication to access it, and will delete all data and accounts upon request of an authorized user.
Right now, Metaphysic PRO is available on an invitation-only basis, though anyone can apply for an invitation on its website.
“Every person with a large audience or fan base should be proactive in protecting their brand and IP from bad actors that want to use non-consensual deepfakes and photorealistic AI avatars to exploit their likeness,” the company states.
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