Mona Lisa rap? New Microsoft AI brings faces to life from photos

Mona Lisa rap? New Microsoft AI brings faces to life from photos

Mona Lisa can now do more than smile, thanks to new artificial intelligence technology from Microsoft.

Last week, Microsoft researchers detailed a new AI model they’ve developed that can take still images of a person’s face and audio clips of a person speaking and automatically create a realistic-looking video of that person speaking. The videos – which can be made from photorealistic faces, as well as cartoons or artwork – are complete with engaging lip-syncing and natural face and head movements.

In a demo video, researchers show how they brought the Mona Lisa to life to recite a comedic rap by actress Anne Hathaway.

The output from the AI model, called VASA-1, is both entertaining and somewhat disturbing in its reality. Microsoft says the technology could be used for education or “increasing accessibility for individuals with communication challenges,” or potentially to create virtual companions for humans. But it’s also easy to see how the tool could be misused and used to impersonate a real person. This is a concern that goes beyond Microsoft: as more tools to create convincing AI-generated images, videos and audio emerge, experts worry that their misuse could lead to new forms of disinformation. Some also worry that the technology could further disrupt creative industries from film to advertising.

For now, Microsoft says it has no plans to release a VASA-1 model to the public right away. The move is similar to how Microsoft partner OpenAI handled concerns about its AI-generated video tool, Sora: OpenAI teased Sora in February, but so far has only made it available to a few professional users and cybersecurity professors for testing purposes.

“We oppose any behavior to create content that is misleading or harmful to real people,” Microsoft researchers said in a blog post. But, they added, the company “does not plan to release” the product publicly “until we are sure that the technology will be used responsibly and according to the correct regulations.”

Make the face move
Microsoft’s new AI model was trained on numerous videos of people’s faces while speaking, and it is designed to recognize natural facial and head movements, including “lip movements, (non-lip) expressions, eye gaze and blinking, among others,” the researchers said. The result is more lifelike video when VASA-1 animates still photos.

For example, in one demo video set to a clip of someone sounding agitated, it appears that while playing a video game, the talking face has frowned and pursed its lips.

AI tools can also be directed to produce videos where the subject looks in a certain direction or expresses a certain emotion.

When looking closely, there are still signs that the video was produced by a machine, such as infrequent blinking and excessive eyebrow movements. But Microsoft said it believes its model “significantly outperforms” other similar tools and “paves the way for real-time engagement with lifelike avatars that mimic human conversational behavior.”

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