The US Federatl Trade Commission said Meta misled parents on parental controls, with under-13-year-olds found to still be allowed to engage in chats with contacts not vetted by guardians

Advances in artificial intelligence and the Metaverse often feel like a step away from the human plane and into a world of robots, simulations and high tech--and yet, there's potential here to use this technology to explore our primordial human instincts.

Humans have been obsessed with worship, pretty much since the dawn of time. From the prehistoric goddess of fertility, the rich ancient pantheons of gods, to the more recent monotheistic religions--religious worship has been around at least there was a Homo Sapiens.

And even today, the object of worship may change, but the principles stay the same. Though we no longer place as much emphasis on supernatural entities, we tend to ascribe them to real humans. People show fanatical devotion for political leaders, ideologues, and lately, celebrities.

Particularly great figures make a lasting impact long past their death. And with the spread of AI technology, there are more and more murmurs of giving "life" back to these particularly important figures.

How do you copy-and-paste a human being?

We can reconstruct a particular person's voice or even overall likeness using two AI deep learning models (the result is then called a "deepfake"). One model trains on existing footage of the particular person to create the replica, while the other specializes in distinguishing real footage from AI-generated material. The goal of the first model is to evade "detection" by the second model, and the training is done with many tit-for-tat iteration cycles.

The end result is often extremely convincing, and the technology is quite readily available. One funny example is that of former US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt explaining how to design the best airplanes in the "WW2 simulator" Hearts of Iron IV. The voice isn't always perfect, but it comes off as quite realistic (save for the clearly anachronistic dialogue).

Of course, it's easy to see how a convincing simulation of a person's speech and movements could be dangerous for our society. This is especially true if state actors or other ill-intended players use them for their own nefarious purposes.

But the FDR example shows that some cases can be quite innocuous, and expanding the concept of the video can be quite a unique spin on entertainment today.

Celebrities, alive and dead, flock the Metaverse

By combining a few AI models, namely the deepfake text-to-speech model and a Large Language Model like ChatGPT, we can easily reproduce any kind of person, dead or alive, provided there is enough material available to train the AI.

The result, after some work, is basically an exact replica of the person as he or she existed. The hard part becomes showing this replica in a way that is immersive and realistic.

One approach is to use holograms, which has been done a few times (not necessarily with deepfakes). For example, the deceased rapper Tupac "appeared" at Coachella 2012 with a "live" performance. Similar things have been done with Whitney Houston and ABBA Voyage (in this case, the holograms were used to de-age the by now 70-80 year old performers)

The holograms are a good approach for a live concert. They look quite realistic from far enough, and give an authentic vibe to the event. The biggest roadblock is likely cost: for example, the single Tupac performance alone cost between $100,000 to $400,000. That's practical only for the largest of concerts, and hence only the most legendary celebrities who can rally such a large audience.

Another approach is with virtual worlds, now referred to as the Metaverse. This approach is going to be much easier to introduce, although potentially not quite as realistic. Then again, Unreal Engine 5 demos can be quite convincing...

Metaverse concerts have also been tried, with Rihanna and Genies, Travis Scott's concert in Fortnite, plus a few others in the Covid era. When people were finally free to roam about post-lockdowns, the popularity of such events quickly diminished, as most chose to return to the "real thing."

But if the celebrity in question is no longer with us, then the Metaverse becomes a valuable option. A recent example that was just announced involves Byte City's Bruce Lee performance, where the martial artist and actor has been "revived" for a unique social event, set for the 50th anniversary of Lee's passing. What sets this incarnation apart from the mentioned above performances is that here fans will get to "interact" with Lee's avatar. It would be interesting to see how well was the AI-Bruce-Lee trained – would it echo the real mannerism and attitude of the late Lee thus enabling the possibility of true immortality, in looks and behavior?

Transcending death with technology

Very soon, when all the technology has been fully developed, you will be able to view perfect AI-generated avatars, rendered to be near photo-realistic, just strolling in your living room through a headset like Apple's Vision Pro.

These could be celebrities, deceased loved ones, supernatural beings--the only limit is imagination and the source data. Though they wouldn't be real, they would speak and act like the real thing. Saving up enough data for such a reproduction is what startups like Somnium Space are trying to do.

There are a lot of philosophical points to debate here: can AI-generated copies sufficiently replace the real feeling? Can they replicate the "essence" of the person? All worth discussing, and the answers will probably continue to change as the technology evolves. For those mourning their heroes, even the prospect of seeing them alive once more is enough to celebrate.

(Bridgit Murphy is a blockchain technology engineer specializing in integrated online services, smart contracts, fork development, and quality assurance.)