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Realistic AI Marilyn Monroe Raises Questions About Ethics of AI Celebs

  • South By Southwest attendees got to speak with a Marilyn Monroe AI chatbot.
  • The company that handles Monroe’s estate signed off on using her likeness in the AI project.
  • But critics say celebrities who can’t consent should not be used in AI recreations.

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Remember when Kanye West bought Kim Kardashian a giant talking hologram of her late father for her birthday? That may have seemed like a crazy idea in 2020.

But now, just a few years later, AI-powered digital recreations of people — and celebrities — that can match their likeness and voice with eery accuracy, and rely on machine learning to hold a conversation, could soon be the norm.

This was illustrated by a presentation at SXSW in which a hyper-realistic Marilyn Monroe answered questions.

While that might be exciting for fans, the idea that AI can mimic people — dead or alive — comes with predictable ethical questions. Many celebrities, for instance, don’t want their likeness to be used without their consent.

AI has become so sophisticated that criminals can use it to impersonate a loved one. Imposter scams — where the scammer pretends to be someone the victim knows to persuade them into handing over money — are the most commonly found scam in the United States, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Americans lost around $2.6 billion to imposter scams in 2022, according to the agency.

Recent advancements in AI technology allow people to make realistic recreations of anyone’s voice using audio clips taken of the person talking.

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said previously that he thinks AI celebrities will become popular.

In September, Meta revealed new AI chatbots with characteristics of celebrities, including Tom Brady, Kendall Jenner, Naomi Osaka, Chris Paul, Charli D’Amelio, Israel Adesanya, and Roy Choi.

Meta’s assistants are designed to answer questions and help with daily activities. One modeled after Dwayne Wade puts together workout plans and helps users stay motivated to their fitness goals, for instance.

Still, Zuckerberg said that widespread use of AI celebs is probably more of a “next year thing” due to limitations on the technology that could let the AI celebrities cross into territory that is not brand safe.

“Oh yeah, but in some ways, the technology doesn’t even exist yet to make it that trained,” Zuckerberg told The Verge.

When AI company Soul Machine debuted its “digital Marilyn” at the South By Southwest festival this week, the company described the experience as a “digital person” with all of Monroe’s “wit, wisdom, and undeniable charm” seen “not through grainy films or distant memories, but in a real-time, personalized interaction.”

The chatbot can have conversations with people that “feel authentic and responsive,” according to the company.

“It’s as if the spark of Marilyn herself has been translated into the AI age,” Soul Machines said in a blog post.

The decision to feature Marilyn Monroe specifically has garnered some criticism from fans and experts, who say that the AI chatbot is a further exploitation of a woman who was already exploited during her career.

“We may have arrived at an all-time low with Soul Machines’ recent unveiling of an AI-generated digital Marilyn chatbot,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Maureen Lee Lenker. “As I type those words, I think my soul just left my body.”

Last year, Robin Williams’s daughter, Zelda, said that she found AI recreations of her father’s voice to be “personally disturbing.” Williams said that she has seen people try to recreate the voices of actors who do not consent.

“These recreations are, at their very best, a poor facsimile of greater people, but at their worst, a horrendous Frankensteinian monster,” she wrote on Instagram.

Marva Bailer, CEO of AI company Qualix, told Fox News that Williams and Monroe’s cases differ because the star’s estates are handled differently.

“Every single one of these discussions is different based on their legal contracts,” Bailer told the outlet.

Soul Machines partnered with Authentic Brands Group — which acquired the rights to Marilyn Monroe’s intellectual property in 2018 — to create the AI Marilyn, according to Deadline. Authentic Brands also represents other iconic celebrities and brands such as Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, Shaquille O’Neal, and David Beckham, the outlet says.

Bailer told Fox that it is becoming more common for celebrities to partner with AI companies that they think can handle their intellectual property in a brand-safe way.

“These are not deepfake people. These are not people that are selling crazy things on whatever,” Bailer told the outlet. “These are people that are business people and have values and ethics stated on their websites.”

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