Hour One describes itself as a “video transformation company” that wants to replace cameras with code, and its latest creation is the ability for anyone to create a fully digital clone of themselves that can appear to speak “on camera” without a camera or audio inputs at all.
The company has debuted its digital clone technology in partnership with YouTuber Taryn Southern. In the video above, Southern is a fully digital creation that was created as a collaborative experiment between Southern and Hour One. The company uses a proprietary AI-driven process to provide automation to video creation, which enables presenter-led videos at scale without needing to put a person in front of a camera.
Hour One says that experts (which are not cited) predict that in the next five to seven years, 90% of content will be synthetic, or generated using computers instead of cameras. The company believes that issues arising from the Coronavirus Pandemic have exacerbated the need for this technology and fast-tracked it.
“When the pandemic hit, production all over the world shut down. People were looking for alternate ways to make content and I was curious about what could be produced with AI-generated video,” says Southern. “Experimenting with AI video production has been similar to working with AI music. It provokes important conversations around the future of identity and trust, and will undoubtedly change the future of production.”
In order to create the “AI Clone,” Southern had to go into a studio and stand in front of a green screen so she could be captured from multiple angles. She also had to say several sets of words so that the program would be able to replicate her voice. In the video below, she describes the process as just reading a couple of scripts and singing a song. The entire process in front of the camera took just seven minutes.
From there, hundreds of videos can be generated in a matter of minutes just by submitting text to the platform. A creator would not need to record any audio at all.
On the plus side, it doesn’t look like it would be possible to create an AI person without this studio time, but it also means that it would theoretically be possible to obtain the AI version of Southern and input any texts into the program which the AI would read as though it were her. The ramifications of that are daunting.
Still, Hour One argues that the benefits of its technologies outweigh the possible downsides. The company claims that with this technology, content creators will see a drastic reduction in the time and cost of video production to a matter of minutes. Additionally, a video can be created without a time-intensive routine to look presentable for the camera (AI Taryn jokes that she can now create new YouTube videos “without the real Taryn having to shower or leave her bed.”).
Additionally, any AI clone can speak multiple languages which allow for greater distribution of content to more people around the world.
It is important to distinguish this technology from a “deepfake.” Deepfakes take a target face and overlay it on top of existing or newly-recorded footage. What Hour One is doing here is allowing for completely original content to be created as though it were being spoken by the real person. Hour One is calling the result a “photoreal digital human.”
While this process may not lend itself to all types of content (like comedy, for instance, which relies heavily on performance and timing), Hour One argues it could be highly effective for news formats, for which the focus is on timeliness and quality of writing and reporting, and other kinds of presenter-led content.
“In our increasingly virtual work environment, Hour One’s technology is also being applied to e-learning, e-commerce, and digital health – places where a human presenter is highly valuable,” the company says.
Hour One’s photoreal digital human technology is rolling out now, with multiple examples available on its website. While the early iteration of the technology may look slightly short of truly real, it is quite close. Hour One will likely iterate and improve on this design in the months and years ahead.