Tom Hanks warns of a dental ad that uses an AI version of him

“BEWARE!!” says Tom Hanks in his latest Instagram post, warning of an ad promoting a dental plan using his AI likeness.

The Instagram post makes it clear that Hanks didn’t consent to the use of his likeness, with text overlaid on a screenshot of the offending dental ad saying, “There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it”.

Broadcast to Hanks’ 9.5 million followers, the post is a warning not just to viewers who may be duped, but to any marketers considering using AI-produced likenesses without obtaining consent. The message is clear: don’t.

Animated Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks is no stranger to technology that has digitally altered his appearance. A CGI version of the oscar-winning actor appeared all the way back in 2004’s computer-animated Christmas movie The Polar Express (which, in my opinion, was already unsettling enough!).

And just last year Hanks was de-aged for scenes in the film A Man Called Otto. Next year, he will again be de-aged using Metaphysic AI technology for the upcoming film Here.

However, Hanks has expressed his concerns about the potentially problematic uses of rapidly-developing AI technology in the film industry. In a podcast earlier this year with Adam Buxton, he said, “I can tell you that there [are] discussions going on in all of the guilds, all of the agencies, and all of the legal firms to come up with the legal ramifications of my face and my voice – and everybody else’s – being our intellectual property”.

Indeed, Hanks’ prediction of how AI could allow actors to “recreate themselves at any age they are by way of AI or deepfake technology” appears scarily prescient, realised in the dental ad’s use of an disconcertingly younger AI version of the actor to promote the company’s plan.

AI misuse a target of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strike

The concerns Hanks has expressed about AI are a key contract issue in the SAG-AFTRA and writer’s guild strikes. Although the recent resolution of the writer’s guild strike has produced key protections against the unchecked use of AI for writers, negotiations are still ongoing for actors, who hold separate fears, including that AI may be used to produce digital likenesses – as in the use of Hanks’ imitation in the dental ad.

But AI can do more than just produce digital likenesses. Actor Zelda Williams, daughter of the late Robin Williams and a supporter of the SAG-AFTRA strike, recently posted an Instagram story decrying the usage of AI to “create/recreate” voices for characters – especially when the actor can’t consent.

“I’ve witnessed for YEARS how many people want to create/recreate actors who cannot consent, like Dad,” says Zelda in the post.

“I’ve already heard AI used to get his ‘voice’ to say whatever people want and while I find it personally disturbing, the ramifications go far beyond my own feelings.”

The controversial ethics of AI-powered ads

Tom Hanks’ unexpected appearance in a dental ad is not the only example of a celebrity’s AI-produced likeness being used in a commercial. Earlier this year, Volkswagen sparked controversy when one of its ads featured Elis Regina, a famous and beloved Brazilian singer who died more than four decades ago in 1982.

The deepfake of Elis’ likeness and voice, achieved using AI-powered technology, was variously praised and criticised. In addition to the storm of media attention the ad stirred, it produced a number of ethical complaints against the ad, launching an ethical investigation by the Brazilian marketing watchdog Conar.

Although Elis’ family gave permission for Volkswagen to produce the AI generated imitation, the ethics of the situation remain murky. Like Hanks, Elis herself didn’t – and of course couldn’t – give her direct permission for the usage of her likeness.

Regardless, the emergence of AI-powered technology which allows the imitation of real people – consenting or otherwise – is a morally complicated situation. One which, to avoid being called out by the likes of Tom Hanks, marketers should perhaps steer clear of.

Cover image attributed to Sony Pictures Entertainment.

This article was first published on Marketing

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