September 2, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: AI made it possible for '90s-era Bruce Willis to star in a Russian commercial, and Facebook has acquired Daqri's AR patents.
Also, save the date: Please join me for Future of Voice, a free online event exploring what's new and what's next for voice — featuring Pandora Senior Product Manager Ananya Sharan, Sonos VP Joseph Dureau and Xandra CEO Zach Johnson — on Sept. 9 at 12 p.m. PT. RSVP now.
John McClane is back. Russian mobile-phone company MegaFon recently began running a series of ads starring Bruce Willis, playing a character that looks awfully similar to the grumpy cop in everyone's favorite Christmas movie. Only, Willis didn't actually participate in the filming of the ads. Instead, the footage features an AI-rendered deepfake version of the actor produced by Russian synthetic media startup Deepcake.
The key to generating a believable action hero? Training data, according to Deepcake CEO Maria Chmir. "We used footage from 'Die Hard' and 'The Fifth Element' because it was important to us to create Bruce from that period," she told me. "We used computer vision to 'watch' these movies, finding the right scenes in them."
Willis isn't the first celebrity to appear in a deepfake ad. Last year, Hulu used the same approach to create ad spots featuring athletes like Damian Lillard and Skylar Diggins-Smith when COVID-19 restrictions got in the way of a regular shoot. However, those athletes still filmed some of the training data for their deepfakes on Zoom calls; Willis' involvement ended with signing the contract for the project.
But Deepcake has some grand plans ahead, despite the fact it launched about a year ago and has so far only produced a few ads for the Russian market.
Over the last two years, many retailers have seen the benefit of investing in new, flexible payments. Despite the low-hanging fruit this opportunity presents, our research shows 60% of ecommerce merchants globally do not feel they receive enough payment insight to allow them to innovate their models. So how can businesses turn their ships around before it's too late?
Remember Daqri? The Bay Area startup debuted a high-tech hard hat a few years ago that was supposed to revolutionize manufacturing with the help of AR. Daqri went belly-up in late 2019, and key members of its team have since joined Snap to help with the company's own AR efforts, as I first reported in early 2020.
Now, I've got an update to share on Daqri's final chapter: The company's patent portfolio has been acquired by Facebook this summer, according to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filings.
I expect we'll see more deals like this as tech giants like Apple and Facebook gear up to make their own AR glasses.
The other day, my daughter asked me for our HBO Max password. After getting it via text message, she responded: "Doesn't work." And thus, the troubleshooting began. Had I given her the correct username? (I had.) Did she by accident download the HBO Go app or the HBO Now app? (She didn't.) Do those apps even exist anymore? (They do not, at least not in the United States.) A few more wild guesses later, she finally got back to me. Turns out the password was correct all along. However, it happened to end with an exclamation mark, which she chose to ignore. "I thought you were just really excited," she said.
Thanks for reading — see you next week!