People

Hulu deepfaked its new ad. It won’t be the last.

Expect less demand for expensive actors and studio time: Now producers are showing it's easy to use algorithms to make compelling clips.

Hulu ad

This ad is fake: Hulu used face-swapping algorithms to create its latest commercial.

GIF: Courtesy of Hulu

How do you safely shoot a commercial during a pandemic? Hulu simply decided to fake it.

The streaming service launched a new ad last weekend to publicize the restart of sports on its TV service. It features athletes such as Damian Lillard and Skylar Diggins-Smith unenthusiastically trying their hands at favorite quarantine hobbies; think painting self-portraits and baking sourdough bread.

But there was a problem: Lillard has been in the NBA's bubble in Orlando, and in-person shoots didn't seem like a good idea for the other star athletes, either. That's why Hulu shot the commercial with body doubles on an otherwise unoccupied set in Los Angeles, and then used deepfake algorithms to superimpose the faces of the stars into the resulting clip.

The deepfake algorithms were trained on footage of the athletes that was shot exclusively over Zoom, explained Hulu marketing VP Ryan Crosby. "Throughout each shoot, we captured several different facial angles including straight-to-camera, 45-degree angle, 90-degree side angle, looking up and looking down," he said. "Athletes were asked to say the vowels ('A' 'E' 'I' 'O' 'U') at each angle along with 'Hulu Has Live Sports Again.' We also recorded several different facial expressions that pertain to their specific movements and speaking lines within the spot."

Hulu worked with Sao Paulo, Brazil-based VFX studio Tribbo on the clip, which also used some still photographs of the athletes to beef up the training data for the AI algorithms. The whole production process took about six weeks, Crosby said.

Hulu isn't the first company to use AI video manipulation for its commercials during the pandemic. In April, State Farm ran a commercial that featured doctored footage of former ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne. In it, a much younger Mayne predicted that ESPN would air "The Last Dance" in 2020. "It's going to be lit. You don't even know what that means yet," the clip has 1998-Mayne saying.

And it's not just for high-end commercials anymore. The AI video startup Synthesia, which promises customers the ability to produce videos without actors and film crews, has seen a 10x growth in demand since the beginning of the pandemic, according to co-founder and COO Steffen Tjerrild. Synthesia's AI dubbing tech takes text input and then manipulates mouth movements of archive footage to produce custom clips, like this one.

AI will eventually do to video production what apps like Instagram filters did to photography, Tjerrild predicted. The need for companies to hire actors and book studio time will in many cases go away when they can just manipulate existing footage with the help of cloud-based algorithms. The cost savings alone could be significant enough to make this stick around even after the pandemic is over. "Allowing anyone to create videos at one hundredth of the cost and 1,000x the speed is here to stay," he said. "The quality and authenticity is only going to get better and better as this space matures."

For now, it's still possible to tell the difference between AI-produced and "real" video. "We knew the biggest fans of these athletes, and sports fans in general, would recognize the imperfections," Crosby said. That's why Hulu hinted at the trickery in its own social posts and on the social feeds of participating athletes. Lillard, for instance, told his fans on Instagram: "Why did Hulu put my face on some random guy's body? Cause I'm too busy getting buckets in the bubble to shoot commercials."

Enterprise

Why software releases should be quick but 'palatable and realistic'

Modern software developers release updates much more quickly than in the past, which is great for security and adding new capabilities. But Edith Harbaugh thinks business leaders need a little control of that schedule.

LaunchDarkly was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle.

Photo: LaunchDarkly

Gone are the days of quarterly or monthly software update release cycles; today’s software development organizations release updates and fixes on a much more frequent basis. Edith Harbaugh just wants to give business leaders a modicum of control over the process.

The CEO of LaunchDarkly, which was founded in 2014 to help companies manage the software release cycle, is trying to reach customers who want to move fast but understand that moving fast and breaking things won’t work for them. Companies that specialize in continuous integration and continuous delivery services have thrived over the last few years as customers look for help shipping at speed, and LaunchDarkly extends those capabilities to smaller features of existing software.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

COVID-19 accelerated what many CEOs and CTOs have struggled to do for the past decade: It forced organizations to be agile and adjust quickly to change. For all the talk about digital transformation over the past decade, when push came to shove, many organizations realized they had made far less progress than they thought.

Now with the genie of rapid change out of the bottle, we will never go back to accepting slow and steady progress from our organizations. To survive and thrive in times of disruption, you need to build a resilient, adaptable business with systems and processes that will keep you nimble for years to come. An essential part of business agility is responding to change by quickly developing new applications and adapting old ones. IT faces an unprecedented demand for new applications. According to IDC, by 2023, more than 500 million digital applications and services will be developed and deployed — the same number of apps that were developed in the last 40 years.[1]

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Denise Broady, CMO, Appian
Denise oversees the Marketing and Communications organization where she is responsible for accelerating the marketing strategy and brand recognition across the globe. Denise has over 24+ years of experience as a change agent scaling businesses from startups, turnarounds and complex software companies. Prior to Appian, Denise worked at SAP, WorkForce Software, TopTier and Clarkston Group. She is also a two-time published author of “GRC for Dummies” and “Driven to Perform.” Denise holds a double degree in marketing and production and operations from Virginia Tech.
Workplace

Building an antiracist company: From idea to practice

Twilio’s chief diversity, inclusion and belonging officer says it’s time for a new approach to DEI.

“The most impactful way to prioritize DEI and enable antiracism is to structure your company accordingly,” says Twilio’s head of DEI Lybra Clemons.

Photo: Twilio

Lybra Clemons is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives at Twilio.

I’ve been in the corporate diversity, equity and inclusion space for over 15 years. In that time, I’ve seen the field evolve slowly from a “nice-to-have” function of Human Resources to a rising company-wide priority. June 2020 was different. Suddenly my and my peers’ phones started ringing off the hook and DEI leaders became the most sought-after professionals. With so many DEI roles being created and corporate willingness to invest, for a split second it looked like there might be real change on the horizon.

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Lybra Clemons
Lybra S. Clemons is a seasoned C-suite executive with over 15 years of Human Resources, Talent and Diversity & Inclusion experience at Fortune 500 companies. She is responsible for guiding and scaling inclusion strategy and diversity initiatives across Twilio's global workforce. Prior to Twilio, Lybra was global head of Diversity & Inclusion at PayPal, where she managed and oversaw all global diversity initiatives. Lybra has held critical roles in Diversity & Inclusion with Morgan Stanley, The Brunswick Group and American Express. She serves on the board of directors of Makers and How Women Lead Silicon Valley Executive Board of Advisers, and has been recognized by Black Enterprise as one of the Top Corporate Women in Diversity.
Boost 2

Can Matt Mullenweg save the internet?

He's turning Automattic into a different kind of tech giant. But can he take on the trillion-dollar walled gardens and give the internet back to the people?

Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

In the early days of the pandemic, Matt Mullenweg didn't move to a compound in Hawaii, bug out to a bunker in New Zealand or head to Miami and start shilling for crypto. No, in the early days of the pandemic, Mullenweg bought an RV. He drove it all over the country, bouncing between Houston and San Francisco and Jackson Hole with plenty of stops in national parks. In between, he started doing some tinkering.

The tinkering is a part-time gig: Most of Mullenweg’s time is spent as CEO of Automattic, one of the web’s largest platforms. It’s best known as the company that runs WordPress.com, the hosted version of the blogging platform that powers about 43% of the websites on the internet. Since WordPress is open-source software, no company technically owns it, but Automattic provides tools and services and oversees most of the WordPress-powered internet. It’s also the owner of the booming ecommerce platform WooCommerce, Day One, the analytics tool Parse.ly and the podcast app Pocket Casts. Oh, and Tumblr. And Simplenote. And many others. That makes Mullenweg one of the most powerful CEOs in tech, and one of the most important voices in the debate over the future of the internet.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

China

Why China is outselling the US in EVs 5 to 1

Electric cars made up 14.8% of Chinese car sales in 2021, compared with 4.1% in the U.S.

Passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% to nearly 3.3 million from a year ago.

Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

When Tesla entered China in 2014, the country’s EV market was going through a reset. The Austin, Texas-based automaker created a catfish effect — a strong competitor that compels weaker peers to up their game — in China’s EV market for the past few years. Now, Tesla’s sardine-sized Chinese competitors have grown into big fishes in the tank, gradually weakening Tesla’s own prominence in the field.

2021 was a banner year for China’s EV industry. The latest data from the China Passenger Car Association shows that total passenger EV sales in China in 2021 jumped 169.1% from a year ago to nearly 2.99 million: about half of all EVs sold globally. Out of every 100 passenger cars sold in China last year, almost 15 were so-called "new energy vehicles" (NEVs) — a mix of battery-electric vehicles and hybrids.

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Shen Lu

Shen Lu covers China's tech industry.

SKOREA-ENTERTAINMENT-GAMING-MICROSOFT-XBOX
A visitor plays a game using Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

On this episode of the Source Code podcast: Nick Statt joins the show to discuss Microsoft’s $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, and what it means for the tech and game industries. Then, Issie Lapowsky talks about a big week in antitrust reform, and whether real progress is being made in the U.S. Finally, Hirsh Chitkara explains why AT&T, Verizon, the FAA and airlines have been fighting for months about 5G coverage.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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