Virtual William Shatner Beams Up for Conversational Video Chats
William Shatner is sharing his life story with the public through video conversations with a virtual human avatar of the science fiction icon. Shatner and conversational video AI developer StoryFile debuted Shatner’s digital alter ego as an example of the new StoryFile Life platform, designed to streamline the production of virtual humans for people to share with their families.
Boldly Going Virtual
Shatner sat for video recordings where he answered a host of questions and told anecdotes about his life, interests, and philosophy. StoryFile fed the recordings into machine-learning algorithms that could break down and categorize the way he speaks and moves, capturing audio and visual mannerisms well enough to simulate them in future conversations. Those interested can use natural language to converse with Shatner’s AI and see how it moves and responds to what they say. To make his digital clone as close to the real thing as possible, Shatner poured out his every thought, building up a bigger and better database for the AI to draw from in terms of content and realistic language.
“Making my StoryFile I’ve done the best I can to be me. And to answer the questions, not only as truthfully, but as extravagantly as possible! I talked about flying. I talked about acting. I talked about dying. I talked about the family. I talked and talked about all the subjects I could think of,” Shatner said in a statement. “I just let it flow and try to give an idea of who I was and what I was and the arc of everything.”
The four-year-old Los Angeles startup combines video recordings and its algorithms to produce virtual humans that can preserve memories of people and events for the future. The company can even enhance the flat video into a three-dimensional form suitable for virtual reality headsets or holographic displays, an option available with Shatner’s alter ego. The StoryFile Life program is essentially the at-home version of StoryFile’s existing platform. The new product has free and premium options, so anyone can answer some questions and test out their own AI avatar. The free version lets users record answers to 33 questions, and will convert them to minute-long video answers and unlimited text conversations. The price and package size rise to $500 for 1,600 questions and 5-minute video answers.
“I recorded this so my children’s children can get to know me—You just press record on any computer or phone and you or your loved ones’ stories become a living record,” Shatner said in a statement. “What might seem ordinary in life, becomes an extraordinary conversation you will have with future generations.”
There’s been rapid growth in the virtual human space over the last year and a half. The acceleration is likely tied to the kind of technical improvements evident in StoryFile Life, as well as the boost in conversational AI and video communications fostered by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent push for contactless interaction and overwhelming demand on customer service and other sectors. Unreal’s launch of MetaHuman Creator in February, in particular, opened a wider public window into the field. New virtual humans have mushroomed in forms like Hour One’s receptionists, the Nestle Toll House’s virtual human “cookie coach” Ruth, YouTube star Taryn Southern’s virtual clone, or CoCo Hub’s artificial popstars.
Deepbrain AI’s recent $44 million funding round is part and parcel of that growth too. StoryFile closed a $4 million funding round in June, nearly doubling its total investment to $9.5 million. and it’s not far-fetched to expect a Shatner-fueled follow-up to StoryFile’s summer funding, especially if it is going to reach its hugely ambitious usage goals.
“StoryFile will be the way we tell the story of our lives and the world. We aim to enable 100 million people from all around the world to keep and share their memories,” CEO Heather Smith said in a statement. “StoryFile Life means everyone everywhere can have a StoryFile, or give it as a gift to someone they love and want to treasure forever.”