Ah, deepfakes. On one hand, they're an impressive demonstration of the power of contemporary VFX. On the other, they're a terrifying glimpse at how said VFX could be used to spread misinformation in the probably-not-too-distant future. And these new examples, starring none other than everyone's favourite impossible mission completer Tom Cruise, might be the most impressive and terrifying we've seen.
The videos, posted to TikTok over the past week, appear to show Cruise golfing, performing magic tricks and even, er, telling jokes about Mikhail Gorbachev. Pretty random stuff – but what all three videos have in common is the fact that they look very, very real. (Check out our best computers for video editing if you fancy having a crack at a deepfake of your own, and see our piece on the ethics of digital humans.)
The videos don't quite look perfect – there are still hints of that 'uncanny valley' quality that comes from looking at fake human eyes. But there are moments where, if the TikTok account wasn't called deeptomcruise, we might well believe we were watching the star himself doing a banal magic trick, or waxing lyrical about his love of golf.
It probably helps that whoever is playing Tom Cruise here has managed to nail the actor's voice and mannerisms. The former is usually the big giveaway when it comes to deepfakes – while the AI exists to mimic faces, the same isn't true of voices (yet). And with familiar Cruisian (that's a word, right?) mannerisms such as those spontaneous bursts of white-teethed laughter all present and correct, these are truly realistic deepfakes.
But while they're both amusing and impressive, the clips have also served to demonstrate how, in the word of one Twitter user (below), deepfake technology is getting "scary good".
Deep fakes are getting scary good and taking over TikTok. Every public figure should just be on there with a verified account - even if they don’t want to make content - to make it easier to identify their fakes. Here’s Tom Cruise: pic.twitter.com/xoSJt1bvVRFebruary 25, 2021
2 years ago on stage I was asked “when will Deepfake video/audio impact trust & be believable in social engineering?” My response then was that we were 2 years away from undetectable Deepfakes. I wish my prediction then was wrong. We need synthetic media detection + labels ASAP. pic.twitter.com/yUUOTDepYYFebruary 26, 2021
These are by no means the first impressive deepfakes we've seen in the last few months. From Harrison Ford reprising the role of Han in 2018's 'Solo' to this contemporary recast of Back to the Future, we've seen all manner of weird and wonderful examples of the tech lately. If you fancy going further down the deepfake hole, check out these 10 deepfake examples that terrified and amused the internet.