'Deepfake' voice tech used for good in David Beckham malaria campaign

Beckham appears to speak nine languages in Malaria No More campaign but tech used has raised concerns.

Beckham: appears to speak nine languages
Beckham: appears to speak nine languages

David Beckham delivers an appeal to end malaria in nine languages in a new global campaign using controversial "deepfake" voice technology. 

A 55-second spot by charity Malaria No More uses video synthesis technology to make Beckham appear multilingual. His speech begins in English, then transitions to eight other languages with convincing dubbing. 

However, the UK company behind the technology used in the campaign, Synthesia, has provoked fears that its software could be used to create "deepfake" videos in which filming of politicians or newsreaders are doctored for fraudulent purposes.

Created by R/GA London, "Malaria must die, so millions can live" asks people to take part in the world’s first voice petition to end malaria ahead of the Global Fund Replenishment Conference in October. 

In the spot, Beckham "speaks" nine languages as he invites people to add their voices to help end one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Using emerging artificial intelligence video synthesis technology, the viewer hears, via Beckham, the voices of real men and women from around the world, including malaria survivors and doctors fighting the disease, from the UK to China to Nigeria.

In a behind-the-scenes video, Beckham said: "It’s great to be involved in something where the tech side of our lives and our world get involved, to be one voice of many different people." Beckham is a founding member of Malaria No More's UK leadership council and a Unicef goodwill ambassador.

Synthesia is backed by US billionaire investor Mark Cuban and raised eyebrows last year when, despite politicians' warnings about deepfakes threatening to subvert democracy, the UK government body Innovate UK invested £70,000 in the business.

Damian Collins, digital culture and sport select committee chair, warned in February that deepfakes were "one of the most serious threats that democracy faces", while US senator Marco Rubio described the tech as a propaganda weapon last year.

Deepfake videos could be banned by Facebook, its chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg told US senators last year, as the company tries to crack down on the profileration of fake news. 

Victor Riparbelli, chief executive and co-founder of Synthesia, said: "At Synthesia, we are reinventing the way video is produced. Our generative AI technologies can bring creative ideas to life in ways that were never possible before." 

The new campaign was created by Nick Moss and Dan Northcote-Smith, and directed by Juriaan Booij through RSA Amsterdam. Dentsu Aegis Network handles the media. Denstu and R/GA were appointed by Malaria No More in November 2017.

Matt Lodder, executive vice-president and managing director at R/GA EMEA, said: "Malaria is the world’s oldest disease; a child dies every two minutes from it. Yet people are still deaf to this message. So with this campaign, we wanted to combine our innovative approach to communications, design and technology to get malaria firmly back on the agenda.

"It’s our responsibility as professionals working in the creative industry to make people sit up and listen, which is why we harnessed the power of voice as the medium in this work."

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