by Joe Allen
Epic Games just released the first demos for MetaHuman Creator, bringing us one step closer to living in a simulation. The cloud-based app has an intuitive interface, allowing minimally competent users to create ultra-realistic digital humans “in less than an hour, without compromising on quality.”
Just as Pro Tools gave burnouts the power to make techno, or PhotoShop let perverts alter celebrity images, soon anyone with a decent laptop will be able to generate a deepfake. It’s gonna be hilarious—at first.
MetaHuman Creator was developed for Unreal Engine, a top platform for game design, film effects, and live event production. The package allows users to build detailed humanoids for 2D videos or immersive virtual environments. Best of all, it’s so easy, any amateur can do it. If you’re a talentless game animator or a dating app con artist, now is your time to shine.
MetaHuman’s first generation of digital androids is about as creepy as you’d imagine, if only because their presentation is so natural. Their facial movements mimic genuine emotions. Watching the demos, you’ll notice tiny pores, subtle wrinkles, hints of tooth crud, and even peach fuzz catching the backlight. The facial palette offers a wide range of skin tones, hairstyles, and bone structures.
The creation process begins with a generic face that’s molded like mortal clay. The results are truly remarkable. Unreal Engine explains in a news release: “MetaHuman Creator…works by drawing from an ever-growing library of variants of human appearance and motion, and enabling you to create convincing new characters through intuitive workflows.”
You can make your digital humans fat or skinny, tow-headed or bald, hot or homely. You can give them a button nose or a big ol’ honker. You can place them anywhere on the gender spectrum, dress them up like digital dolls, and make them say whatever you like.
Ultimately, this software will democratize deepfakes. It starts with innocent pranks, and ends in international scandals. As the fakes pile up, normal people will increasingly approach media with schizoid skepticism—a trend well underway. Any video evidence a person wants to ignore can be dismissed as a “deepfake.”
The inevitable explosion of phony content will also strengthen our self-designated “legitimate news sources” as the sole arbiters of what is real. If it gets bad enough, we might need a federal Reality Czar to sort it all out.
In a Phony World, You’ve Gotta Fake It to Make It
MetaHumans Creator is part of a natural progression. Digital humans will thrive in an era of fake news, fake revolutions, fake insurrections, fake photos with invented quotes, fake memes with bogus statistics, fake hate crimes, fake bosoms, fake smiles, fake miracles, and an endless parade of phony celebrities. It was a short jump from Patty Duke to Philip K. Dick, and even shorter to presidential deepfakes.
Perpetual doubt is just part of the New Normal. Leading up to the election, I heard multiple liberals claim that Hunter Biden’s leaked nude videos are nothing but a Russian deepfake. After all, who falls asleep with a crackpipe in his mouth? Some even insist that his abandoned laptop never existed.
After viewing a few clips for myself on GTV.org, let’s just say I’m skeptical of their skepticism. Believe it or not, Joe Biden’s son has some serious issues. But lefties aren’t the only ones losing their grip.
In the aftermath of the “deadly insurrection” on Capitol Hill, I heard equally crazy claims on the right. On the night of Jan. 7, Trump released a poorly shot video from the White House. In it, the president condemned the rioters and called for unity.
Immediately, some otherwise sane people insisted this was a deepfake. Some actually thought Trump was being held prisoner in some secret location. All this because his double chin looked weird sagging over his collar. They couldn’t believe their eyes. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
Later, a friend assured me, “It’s really not that crazy. Their fears were just a year or two early.”
Who Will Fact-Check Our Reality Czar?
In a world where everything smells like phony baloney, you can either use your own critical faculties, or turn to established authorities for answers. The problem is, when falsehoods reach a certain level of sophistication, we have to question our own perceptions. That’s why our rulers now demand we listen to them, and them alone.
According to The New York Times, “several experts [have] recommended that the Biden administration put together a cross-agency task force to tackle disinformation and domestic extremism, which would be led by something like a ‘reality czar.’“
Maybe they’ll elevate someone from the squalid pool of fact-checkers at CNN or PolitiFact. As the deepfakes keep coming, our catty Reality Czar will issue decrees like “Yes, Kamala Harris is really human” or “No, Biden can’t rap freestyle—but his son can.”
Experts agree we should leave real thinking to the experts. A recent NYT op-ed warns easily bewildered readers: “Critical thinking, as we’re taught to do it, isn’t helping in the fight against misinformation.” If you come across a dubious claim, the author advises, first check Wikipedia to see if their editors have defamed the source yet. For those wanting to dig deeper, just cut-and-paste the claim into Google, because truth always rises to the top results. Right?
If you can’t trust college-aged fact-checkers, anonymous editors, or global tech corporations, who can you trust?
The Blind Leading the Blind
I’m reminded of a dinner I attended back in late 2019, when COVID was just a twinkle in some technocrat’s eye. The conversation turned to MAGA violence, and I noted the numerous, widely ignored attacks on Trump-supporters over the past few years—many quite brutal. As usual, everyone denied existence of such a thing. If it was real, they would know about it.
When I cited the abundant video evidence—reel after reel of gleeful violence—a professor’s wife said, “Oh, you can do anything with computers these days. There are all sorts of ‘deepfakes’ floating around. That’s why you have to stick to trusted sources, like CNN or The New York Times.”
I was appalled. Did she really think I couldn’t tell a doctored cellphone video from the real thing? Those were more innocent times. In the coming years, it may be that only advanced artificial intelligence can detect AI-enhanced deepfakes, at least the really good ones.
The Defense Department has wrestled with this problem for a while now. Two years ago, DARPA announced its Semantic Forensics program, or SemaFor. Their aim is to develop and deploy AI to sniff out deepfakes and other doctored media. This automated system will monitor news sites and social media for disinformation. AI cop-bots will flag any anomalies—such as wonky eyes or mismatched earrings—and send them up the chain for human review.
Using benevolent AI to protect your brain from malevolent AI is classic New Normal.
It’s All Fun and Games ‘Til You Poke Your Eyes Out
The upside to DIY fakes will be all the pranks and comedic material. It’s gonna be nuts! Cyberbullies will engineer faux break-ups for fun. Deepfake politicians will confess everything to the public. Professional necromancers will resurrect the dead and post cyber-zombies on YouTube. Sketch comedy troops will push offensive impersonations to unforgivable heights.
These trends have already started. Last fall, South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone took a stab at deepfake comedy with their irreverent “Sassy Justice” (not kid-friendly). The fact that many viewers never recognize the main character’s face tells you where our culture is going.
Digital creators build on each other’s techniques, crafting ever more realistic simulacra. The downside will be our increasing inability to distinguish reality from illusion. People will go from believing all sorts of crazy things, as they do now, to believing even crazier things backed by “video evidence.”
Left unchecked, no one will believe anything they see, unless they want to. As this epistemic void widens, various authorities will impose their own madness as the only true path to sanity. If you thought the Fine People Hoax was a doozy, wait ‘til you see the reptile grin behind Joe Biden’s mask.
Animate Old Photos Using AI