TikTok Deepfake ‘Unreal Keanu Reeves’ Spurs Furious Debate
@unreal_keanu Dancing is the best cardio #reeves #keanu #beatit ♬ original sound – Scott Jackson
A deepfake incarnation of actor Keanu Reeves has sparked a debate over how to identify real people from synthetic media versions on TiTok. The social media video app’s ‘Unreal Keanu’ account has confused a lot of people, emphasizing just how advanced deepfake technology has become of late, even as it spreads through pop culture and media.
The Unreal Keanu TikTok page hosts a collection of videos supposedly showing Reeves talking, dancing, and making jokes about his career and the popular memes surrounding him like his supposed unaging visage. It’s mostly fairly mundane activities, though the real Reeves would undoubtedly garner plenty of interest in the most everyday elements of his life. But, the millions of viewers watching the videos are actually observing a sophisticated, if somewhat limited, deepfake portrayal of the actor.
The comments on the video include people who think it’s really Reeves (Why wouldn’t this be him? It looks like him to me), those who think it’s a very close lookalike (“I don’t understand how you’re not Keanu. Separated at birth? Lol. It’s just too uncanny”), and those who have spotted signs of AI assistance in the videos (Obviously fake, maybe Unreal Engine?). There are also some who just seem confused (What if this is Keanu Reeves trying not be Keanu Reeves but trying to be Keanu Reeves?)
Besides the fact that the account name makes it clear what’s going on, the indicators of synthetic media are visible in the videos. Much like how Metaphysics’ deepfake Tom Cruise appeared to be performing in videos, Unreal Keanu Reeves layers a digital recreation of the actor’s face over that of someone whose face shape comes close to the real thing. The AI used for the videos isn’t specified, though the comments and account name point toward Unreal Engine.
Building deepfakes with synthetic media is getting easier and also harder to distinguish from reality. Metaphysic’s technology helped the startup get to the finals of America’s Got Talent (AGT) through a series of performances with deepfake celebrities, including Elvis Presley. The finale performance went beyond visuals and included an audio performance enhanced by synthetic voice startup Respeecher, best known for de-aging and synthesizing the voices of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker for recent Star Wars TV shows.
Money to fund and acquire startups with the capacity for deepfakes, including Deep Voodoo, from the creators of South Park and Korean synthetic voice startup Supertone. The same concerns about synthetic media crystallized in stories about deepfakes like The Capture, even as real-life media stars enjoyed playing with the possibilities.