China's iPhone users have found a new craze – a new app called Zao which lets people convincingly and hilariously transpose their faces onto actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones, and many others.
It isn't currently available to anyone without a Chinese phone number, and isn't listed on the UK or US App Store or Play Store.
Created by Chinese developer MoMo, the app allows users to deepfake their faces onto a huge range of actors, singers, and even video game characters. Users can upload even just a single image of their face and the app will automatically map it onto selected video clips for them. The results are surprisingly convincing and unexpected.
So-called "deepfake" technology has caught the public's imagination, using AI software to analyse someone's face and then map it onto video of someone else. Recently it has become more sophisticated and, as the Zao app shows, more accessible.
Check out some Zao-generated deepfakes below:
This tweet from game developer Allan Xia shows his face grafted onto various shots of Leonardo DiCaprio.
In case you haven't heard, #ZAO is a Chinese app which completely blew up since Friday. Best application of 'Deepfake'-style AI facial replacement I've ever seen.— Allan Xia (@AllanXia) September 1, 2019
Here's an example of me as DiCaprio (generated in under 8 secs from that one photo in the thumbnail) ? pic.twitter.com/1RpnJJ3wgT
Xia also had a dialogue with himself as both Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones.
The app has GIF-generating functionality, as illustrated by this gif of Xia as Wolverine.
It also appears to work with video game characters, here's Xia inserting his face into Devil May Cry.
Oh yeah, #Zao also works rather well with CG characters. I guess folks might not have to spend hours during character creation? I can see streamers loving this application of AI facial replacement. #DMC5 pic.twitter.com/AdpB4DIA00— Allan Xia (@AllanXia) September 2, 2019
Finally Xia replaced a K-Pop singer's face with his own.
Twitter-user Nikk Mitchell also deepfaked his way onto DiCaprio's filmography.
Me risking my face rights to test out #ZAO so ya'll don't have to. The image I used is one single normal selfie that you can see in the bottom left of the image.#thefuturescaresme pic.twitter.com/RjtK8ZWPq9— Nikk Mitchell ? (@nikkmitchell) September 2, 2019
Mitchell expressed his amazement at the app, mapping himself onto two Chinese actors.
I am in absolute awe of #ZAO. I uploaded a couple selfies, choose a clip, and seriously in less then 30 seconds had myself fully deep faked in. I can't wait till I can watch entire films where every character is me.— Nikk Mitchell ? (@nikkmitchell) September 2, 2019
On a side note to the developers, please don't be evil. pic.twitter.com/Y7qCpghfw9
Chinese technology commentator Matthew Brennan inserted himself into Big Bang Theory.
And Twitter user Andrew Rae transposed himself into Braveheart.
New Chinese app Zao does AI facial replacement in 10 seconds. That's me in the bottom-left corner. pic.twitter.com/z4EcAVm1g3— Andrew Rae (@andrewfrae) September 2, 2019
Zao isn't currently available to non-Chinese users, but it's raising some concerns around privacy and the ethics of deepfakes
Behind Zao is Momo, a large social-media company which owns Chinese dating app Tantan.
Bloomberg and The Guardian reported that after going viral, privacy concerns started to crop up from users who had seen a line in the app's terms and conditions which stipulated the app had "free, irrevocable, permanent, transferable, and relicense-able" to user-generated content.
The backlash promoted WeChat, China's popular chat service, to block Zao on its platform.
Bloomberg reports that Zao quickly updated its terms, saying "headshots" and "mini-videos" won't be used for anything other to improve the app, or anything else pre-approved by the user.
The sudden backlash is reminiscent of the mistrust that surrounded FaceApp, a Russian app which used AI to apply various filters to users' faces to make them appear old or switch gender.
Zao also said in a statement, according to Bloomberg: "We understand the concern about privacy. We've received the feedback, and will fix the issues that we didn't take into consideration, which will need a bit of time."
Should Zao decide to make its app available more widely, it's likely Western users will still feel concern. China has used facial recognition technology to massively expand its surveillance network, and users will likely baulk at handing over personal data to an overseas developer.
Chinese selfie app Meitu likewise went viral in the West in 2017 for its beautification of photos, but was criticised for demanding access to excessive data like phone numbers and GPS co-ordinates.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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