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In this episode of The Briefing I talk with Ian Crocombe of Superheroic about the creation of TF14 (my “synthetic self”). We discuss how TF14 was made, the tools and platforms employed, and the use cases for digital representations such as this.
I also talk about the launch of Worldcoin, the pros and cons of is-a-person solutions and explore security threats around biometrics.
BBC News article on the launch of Worldcoin https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-66128111
Vitalek's essay https://vitalik.eth.limo/general/2023/07/24/biometric.html
Tracey Follows, Forbes article on Synthetic Self https://www.forbes.com/sites/traceyfollows/2023/07/21/i-used-generative-ai-to-create-a-synthetic-self-and-you-can-too/?sh=1e97b2216dbd
Ian Crocombe Linkedin linkedin.com/in/iancrocombe
Tracey Follows 0:20
Welcome to this briefing episode on The Future of You. As regular listeners know, these briefings allow me to cover a few of the topical stories around identity popping up in the week. Today, we cover the launch of Worldcoin, pros and cons of is a person solutions, security threats around biometrics, and we have an interview with Ian Crocombe of SuperHeroic on how to build your synthetic self. Worldcoin is one of the areas that has popped up this week. We've covered it before on the pod, but it became news because it was officially launched by Sam Altman. Altman was quoted as saying, Worldcoin could drastically increase economic opportunity, and scale a reliable solution for distinguishing humans from AI online, all whilst preserving privacy. So what does that word salad really mean? Well, it means that we're one step closer to a potentially dystopian crypto future, which offers you money in exchange for your identity. It all ties into the so called utopian concept of universal basic income, where as you know, citizens are paid a set amount of money like a salary direct from the government really, regardless of their means. Socialism writ large in a society led by productive machines effectively. For years Altman has been testing this out on the citizens of Africa. And now he claims to have 2 million people added to the Worldcoin crypto database, mostly across Africa, India and South Africa. But one wonders how many people did so under conditions of informed consent? Did they really understand what they were consenting to? Do they really understand what happens to their identity data now, I'm not sure anyone on the planet would understand this, to be honest. Nevertheless, Worldcoin has plans to roll out 1500 of their futuristic orbs that scan the iris of each person in return for a unique number that entitles the victim to 25 Worldcoins.
Tracey Follows 2:22
This is one of the reasons I wrote The Future of You. I could see digitization of identity coming. And that proof of personhood would be an important element to underpinning access to well, everything done digitally, including public services. Vitalik Buterin wrote a long piece turning over the pros and cons of various approaches to proof of personhood, and in it he critiqued Worldcoin as a potential solution. He spends a long time in the article talking about what proof of personhood is. But for those regular listeners on here, you will have heard episodes with Dave Birch, Cameron, D'Ambrosi Kalia Young Andy Tobin and others and you already know what it is. And you already know there's a difference between is a person and is that person. He makes a distinction between social graph based systems and biometric systems - Worldcoin of course, being the latter, and then captures the issue in a nutshell, the old hardware system can potentially do a better job of protecting privacy. But it also introduces much greater centralisation into the system. The piece is an excellent read and by the time you get to the end of it, you once again mulling over these trade offs that litter the issues of verification and authentication around identity, the same ones that we see again and again. What are we happy to give up? And what are the deal breakers? There's a section on how we deal with fake people, and he remarks that an in person scan is quite hard to fake compared to deep faking a video. He means specialised hardware is harder to fool than digital algorithms, verifying pictures and videos. Now, this is an issue that I discuss in the next episode with Andrew Bud, Founder CEO of iProov the world leader in biometric face verification. Deep fakes do present a threat and Andrew actually tells me about their solution called genuine presence assurance, a way to better detect deep fakes. He believes that this will become the fundamental root of trust, helping to deliver the human rights of secure and privacy protecting digital identity verification to people all around the world. Here's a snippet from the next episode.
Andrew Bud 4:43
So again, this is a world in which we have the potential of having extremely realistic agents of ourselves, potentially interacting with each other. How the hell are we going to know whether they're real or not? And it's going to matter because there is a real difference between the genuinely present person and an avatar. And that's going to come back to the assurance of genuine presence. I now believe that our ability to distinguish between a genuine, a real human being in the interest doesn't reside in verifiable credentials Tracey, trust resides in the stuff that goes on between our ears. And the ability to demonstrate to high degree of probability that the interaction you're having is with a real human being, a real, thinking, personally accountable human being will become fundamental not just to avoid fraud and money laundering, but societal stability. And we will find that in the metaverse, as in real life, as in a world of generative AI, the issuer of the certificate of genuineness will become one of the key sources of trust in the entire economy. That's kind of the role that we see developing for us and our industry.
Tracey Follows 6:07
Speaking of avatars and agents, I wrote a piece in Forbes this week about how, I along with the team at SuperHeroic, built TF 14, the first of my AI entourage - now trusted to leave the house and carry out some tasks on my behalf. In the most recent episode, we also chatted with Matthew Kershaw of D-id.com, about the business of digital people, and how they will become integrated into our lives, as well as our businesses. Well, here, you can listen to Ian Crocombe, talk in detail about how we worked together on TF14, what we were trying to achieve with this synthetic self, and how synthetic representations of ourselves is going to change the game.
Ian Crocombe 6:49
So SuperHeroic, is something we set up for marketers over the last year, and we help marketing teams build generative AI capabilities that they can use within their business. So a lot of the initial work is training and consulting that we've done. So I think we've trained about 600 people now. And we tend to train networks of people. So we did some stuff for publicist network in Ireland a couple of weeks ago, we're doing a Marketing Academy session in August. So yeah, so we're basically training networks of marketers. And our goal in that is to empower people with the confidence to use AI in their daily practice.
Tracey Follows 7:25
So what's the use case that a marketeer would come to you with specifically or don't they really know? And that's what you're trying to work out for them.
Ian Crocombe 7:33
From the stuff that we've done, we obviously we measure everything, and we can see the core challenge that marketers have got at the moment when they're at the beginning of their journey is fear. They're frightened about talking about AI, there's a lack of clarity around things like copyright. There's a lack of clarity around legals for some of the things around data. Some people are just a bit frightened. So we wanted to remove that fear and empower people to use AI every day in what they do.
Tracey Follows 7:56
What would be an example of something you couldn't do before? What have you done that you couldn't do you before through these tools?
Ian Crocombe 8:02
Well, it's quite interesting. I mean, I work as a I run a consultancy, so we consult with businesses, I also work as a VP of strategy for businesses, and also interim marketing director for other businesses. So I sit across a bunch of different roles at the moment. So as a strategist, I've got my hands in the clay, working in the silicon mines looking for insights, you know. So we worked on a project last week where I generated for a pizza company, eight extreme personas. So these will be personas that wouldn't necessarily come out of UX interviews or out of primary research. But I scraped 700 customer reviews on Trustpilot, from the Google App Store, from Yelp, in different cities across the US. And I use these to build extreme use case personas. And so then I can feed these into the creative teams. And they're like, well, that's interesting. I know, personas are really more more granular and more functional. These are basically people who want to order a pizza at two in the morning, or can never agree what's going on, because their kids are arguing, they were just really great jumping off points. So I think using AI for inspiration as a partner to jam with is what's there for strategists, and the opportunities are big. I always say to people, you know, you should be able to free up an hour of your day using these tools to get a bit more done. And you should be able to do things you couldn't do before. Those are the two things I'm always trying to do.
Ian Crocombe 9:21
And then I guess also, we work with creative teams a lot. I mean, as I work as a planner in agencies, and I also work with creatives in my own business, and also work with other creative teams in training as well. And what's interesting is creatives are grasping the idea that the means of production are shifting away from having to go out to different specialists to make stuff. And so you can make a short film, you can create a pitch concept and can make a storyboard in faster ways with higher fidelity and without having to pull all the resources in. So I think you're kind of you know, our proposition at SuperHeroic, you know, but I do think you're giving people these kinds of superhuman powers. Basically, what we've basically seen is that commercially available platforms like D-id, you spoke to Matt Kershaw last week. And also Synthesia, who we met Victor a couple of years ago when when they were still raising money, but they're huge now. These companies are basically building commercially available synth platforms that are really easy to use. So rather than someone coming to your customer service page and having to read the FAQs, they can basically build an avatar that will go from text to voice and talk you through the FAQs. So there's this kind of customer service angle, I guess, they're used a lot for things in commercially, they're used a lot for b2b communications, customer service and also for basic marketing use cases where you want to bring something to life a little bit more, particularly education, things like that. And what you can see is when you use a synth, people spend more time with it. They'll review things and they're more emotionally engaged, they're more likely to learn. So that's the kind of commercial normal use of it, obviously, as creative people were like, ok, what can we do that is slightly crazy? And how can we bend this to do interesting things with culture? So I've been working with Norts and Derek at The Peeps who are creative technologists who are our partners on this as well. We started to do things last year, like use synthetic actors in ads. So we did a campaign for Bower Collective, where we created a fake recycling spokesperson who was a deep fake. And that's the kind of joke as well. So we've been playing with this a lot, what I've started to do is to build sense of myself, who can act as not quite an autonomous agent, but can effectively scale my presence. So for example, if someone can send an email to me or have it hooked up to my CRM, I can send them a short video message back, and a video message could be my synth.
Tracey Follows 11:42
Tell our listeners a little bit about how we made TF 14...
Ian Crocombe 11:47
We were talking about the work that you were doing as a futurist and how you were showing up. And we came back with the idea of how can we create a bespoke branded synth that could project your knowledge in new places and in different ways and also explore this future of identity?
Tracey Follows 12:01
And what were the tools that we use, I think you said it was Midjourney. And we used Eleven Labs, didn't we? And of course, D-id.com was the platform.
Ian Crocombe 12:11
So you know, that first piece that we did, which was a consultation, where we talked about cultural references, film references, use cases for a synth... that gave us that really strong strategic brand platform almost. So it felt very much like our old world of advertising that we were doing. And then once you had that Tracey, we were able to then fuel that and use that as input to go into Midjourney, which is the core tool that we use for the visualisation. So to take your images of yourself, portraits of you as a seed, and then to fuse them with the cultural references that we talked about to build that image. And I think Norts said he built 50 different potential images. And you settled on the 14, Tracey Follows 14 or TF 14, as it's now called romantically. So once we have that static image, the next thing that we'll do is we'll use D-id as a platform, Synthesia works in a similar way. But we're very close with Matt over at D-id, and we use the platform a lot. I think that Norts and Derek are one of the top three makers of avatars at one point in Europe.
Ian Crocombe 13:06
So we basically take that image, and then we'd use a soundtrack to animate it. So a way a lot of these AI films work is that you have a you have like a core image, and then you have a driver video which animates it. And that's the way that you do deep fakes as well. So we could basically take a piece of audio, you'd record it, it could be a clip from a podcast, or it could just be a one minute message to somebody put that entity ID as you know, and then animate that and make that into a video. So that's the kind of core simple use case. And what we know is really strong audio tricks, the brain is thinking things are real. So I know that your stuff is recorded beautifully, using all your podcast studio equipment as well/ That actually tricks the brain that feels more real, which is really exciting. There's tonnes of other stuff that we can do with them. We also use a tool called Eleven Labs, which is for voice cloning. So I've cloned my own voice, if I can't be bothered to record something, or it's a bit noisy, I can go text to speech and it gives you a voice which is 80%, like me, with a little American playing at the end, which is great. So that's good. So you can do text to speech in your own voice now, which is super useful as well. And then I guess now it's about exploring the use cases, where can your synth show up? How can it represent?
Tracey Follows 14:15
Ian where do you think this is all going to be in sort of, I don't know, five to seven years time? Are we going to have avatars dealing with avatars or AI agents dealing with AI agents and the humans out of the loop? Or is the human always going to be, if not in control, somewhere in the background in that loop?
Ian Crocombe 14:35
It's a brilliant question. If I think about marketing, which is kind of where I where I get paid. I think about it a bit like a pyramid. So at the top of the pyramid, you're going to have artisan handcrafted stuff for the Burberry's of the world which has never seen a computer. It's gonna be done with pencil. It's going to be carved. It's going to be physical and analogue because that's premium. Yeah, it's not gonna have seen an AI and that's going to feel differentiated and interesting. And we're going to relate to it, though the bottom of the pyramid, you're going to have Chinese drop shippers, who are, you know, even when I worked at Facebook, we saw people in Greater China with 80,000 ads in their account for gaming companies. And these are all generated by AI. No human had ever seen them, no human or probably even interacted with them. But it's just this, you know, you're going to have at the bottom of the pyramid, you're going to have AI generated, you know, 'Pound Shop' creativity, I guess. And I think in the middle, which is where I generally play, you're going to have this AI augmented human experience. So it's going to be humans, just like accountants started using Excel to speed up their work, marketers are going to be using AI tools to speed up their work and get them to do more as well. So you have this blend of things. But this year, definitely the thought is that you use AI as an assistant, or as like a junior partner to jam with. And then the human then finishes that and takes it on. So I mean, to actually be to be honest with you now, for me is a bit like a more interesting version of Google. That's how I use it within my strategy practice.
Tracey Follows 16:02
And if people are interested in this marketing, or otherwise, how do they get in touch with you?
Ian Crocombe 16:09
You can find me on LinkedIn at Ian Cromcombe. You can have a little Google for me, you can go to superheroic.co, which is our kind of hub for all of our AI creative technology work and we've got training consulting, our synth boutique - in which you are the first customer - and also creative technologies where we do a lot of campaign work.
Tracey Follows 16:26
Brilliant. Thanks for joining me today.
Ian Crocombe 16:28
Thank you, Tracy.
Tracey Follows 16:36
Thank you for listening to The Future of You hosted by me Tracey Follows. Check out the show notes for more info about the topics covered in this episode. Do like and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you know someone you think will enjoy this episode please do share it with them. Visit thefutureofyou.co.uk for more on the future of identity in a digital world and futuremade.consutling for the future of everything else. The Future of You podcast is produced by Big Tent Media.