What Are Deepfake Videos? Animated Tom Cruise Goes Viral on TikTok

Deepfake videos are going viral on social media platform TikTok after one user released clips of a computer-generated Tom Cruise talking to the camera and playing golf.

The CGI version of the Hollywood actor is so realistic it had viewers questioning whether or not the actor is actually in the videos.

Deepfake videos are animations that often depict people talking to the camera or performing other actions that look real. They may also feature voices that are designed to closely match the real person's voice.

In 2019, Samsung's AI Center released research in which they detailed an artificial intelligence system that could produce "personalized talking head models" if it was fed only a few images—or even just one image—of a person beforehand.

The study said: "We show that such an approach is able to learn highly realistic and personalized talking head models of new people and even portrait paintings."

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review magazine, deepfake technology is based on an artificial intelligence technique known as GAN, invented in 2014 by Ian Goodfellow, then a Ph.D. student.

GANs, or Generative Adversarial Networks, work by allowing two artificial intelligence networks to try to outwit one another by creating computer-generated objects that are as realistic as possible.

Deepfakes have given rise to fears that cyber-criminals could use them to harm the reputation of others by making them appear to say or do things they haven't. Some examples feature a fake Barack Obama appearing to call Donald Trump a "complete dips***." Others are used in pornography, giving rise to ethical concerns.

What are the TikTok videos?

The Tom Cruise TikTok videos were posted by an account called @deeptomcruise. It had amassed more than 382,000 followers as of Wednesday March 3rd, with its videos gathering 1.1 million likes. It is only following one user—the real Tom Cruise.

In one of the convincing videos, the deepfake Cruise appears to put on a hat and sunglasses before picking up a golf club. He asks: "What's up TikTok? You guys cool if I play some sports?"

He then appears to hit a golf ball, before returning to the camera to say: "If you like what you're seeing, just wait 'till what's coming next."

The TikTok videos are not the only recent examples of the animation technology capturing public attention.

On February 25, ancestry site MyHeritage announced it was launching a new service whereby users could animate the faces of people who are seen in still photos.

The animation is performed using Deep Nostalgia technology, which turns people in color or black-and-white photographs into moving faces that can blink and smile.

MyHeritage said it had an "ethical responsibility" to make sure people could differentiate between the animations and videos of real people.

The company pointed out users could tell when a video had been animated by locating a small icon in the bottom left corner of the animation.

It said the service did not include fake speech generation to prevent "abuse" of the feature, "such as the creation of 'deep fake' videos of living people."

"Some people love the Deep Nostalgia feature and consider it magical, while others find it creepy and dislike it."

Tom Cruise smiling
Tom Cruise attends the 'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' US Premiere on July 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. The actor has been deepfaked in videos published on TikTok. Michael Loccisano/Getty