Actors are in the middle of a major, protracted battle with Hollywood over what role AI will be playing in the future of entertainment, and how they’ll be compensated for that when those AIs are basically likenesses of them. Over at Meta, it looks like some of those kinks have been ironed out…

Today, the parent of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp (and a bunch of other products it hopes will, one day, become as successful as these) unveiled a new set of celebrity AIs: 28 AI characters based on famous people — built in cooperation with those celebs but running entirely on AI — from across the worlds of sport, music, social media and more.

The list is a who’s-who of personalities that spin the media wheels of the western world, including the likes of Tom Brady, Charli D’Amelio, Snoop Dog, and Paris Hilton. The idea here is that Meta’s version of them, these AIs — which Facebook tells me are built on Llama 2 — can be called into conversations with users across all of Meta’s various platforms (chats, VR experiences and so on), where they will give you fun and helpful advice in their areas of expertise.

Tom Brady’s Bru (not Bro) will chew the fat about sports; Charli’s Coco will help you dance; Kendall Jenner’s Billie will give you “ride or die” advice. Some are a little more left field. Paris plays Amber (a character of a character), who will help you solve whodunits, and… Snoop is NOT helping you craft music or build hydroponic enterprises; he is a, um, “dungeon master.”

For now, Meta is being somewhat cagey on all of the details behind how the celebrity characters were built. Here’s what we know and don’t know:

— The company confirmed to us that they are built on the Llama 2 large language model that was released earlier this year.

— These are not video clips, but generated AI animations: Meta filmed the people that the AIs represent, and then used “generative techniques” to turn those disparate animations into cohesive user experiences. The aim of the model is to preserve a “unique personality and tone” for each character, while also making sure each provided useful information. It declined to comment on whether it filmed just the people in question, or whether clips of others were used to supplement the footage.

— That also included what Mark Zuckerberg described on stage as “thousands of hours” of red-teaming and working with prompts to train the characters to steer clear of iffy topics, and so that the video interactions matched up with the text-based responses when the conversations are in chats.

— The chat aspect is important: there is no audio for now, although that is apparently coming next year. I can’t help but wonder: will it be more successful than Amazon’s celebrity Alexa voices, which it shut down earlier this year?

— Absolutely no detail on the business model behind this. We asked how Meta was compensating the celebrities for their likenesses, which got a resounding “no comment” from the spokespeople.

But, when you consider some of the existing Meta business — where for example Instagram has a fairly well-established model for paying creators; and the whole company is largely run on advertising revenues — you might already be able to hear the spiel. These characters will appear across multiple social platforms and interfaces (mobile, web, VR). And influencers and other media personalities will be able to use them to stay “authentic” to their brands, while also letting Kendall Inc. scale up Kendall’s output and “engagement.”

We’re only starting to get to grips with how AI can trick us into thinking we’re looking or listening to real-world humans doing human things, when in reality we’re looking at likenesses. Sadly, there is no real Pope rocking Balenciaga, and there is no new Drake track.

So when the “characters” were first unveiled by Zuckerberg during the keynote today, it was hard to get a sense of what we were looking at. Are these video clips? Is the AI character really responding to what Zuck was writing? Unlike the help Meta thinks you might get from its chatbots one day, the live demo featuring a nodding and smiling Snoop Dog acting as “Dungeon Master” did nothing to help answer these questions. (“Note: text RPGs make for exceptionally boring and awkward onstage demos,” one of my colleagues quipped in Slack.) 

If there was an overriding message from today’s AI news it was this: leave your dystopia at the door! Meta often has a knack for pulling the uncanny carpet out from under us, and that’s what it’s aiming for here, playing on the wow factor. We want to know these people, and now, every one of us can converse with Tom, Kendall and Paris — and Meta can build a full-on experience, and maybe even a business, out of that.

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