Watch a tech billionaire talk to his AI-generated clone

Billionaire LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman recently released a video 'interview' with his new digital avatar, Reid AI. Based on a custom GPT trained on two decades of Hoffman's books, articles, speeches, interviews and podcasts, Reid AI uses voice and video deepfake technology to create a digital clone capable of the mannerisms and conversational tone of the source topic. For over 14 minutes you can see the two Hoffmans staring lovingly and dead-eyed into the creepy navel of the technology industry, respectively. In doing so, viewers are not offered “a way to be better and more human,” as the real Hoffman argues, but a path to a misleading, dangerous, unethical, and hollow future.

Many people may shudder at the idea of ​​unleashing a talking, animated AI avatar of themselves onto the world, but the tech utopian investor in the “city of yesterday” definitely sounds excited about it. According to a Blog post from April 24he finds the whole prospect so “interesting and thought-provoking” that he recently teamed up with a generative AI video company Hour one and starting AI audio 11ElfLabs to make it happen. (If that last name sounds familiar, it's because 11ElevenLabs' product is the one that scammers abused to make those deepfake Biden robocalls earlier this year.)

After teases a showcase of its digital clone For months, Hoffman finally revealed a (heavily edited) video call between himself and “Reid AI” last week. And what does the cutting-edge, deepfake animated culmination of a custom GPT-4 chatbot reportedly trained in all things Hoffman mean? A solid question – and one that isn't easy to answer after seeing the surreal, awkward and sometimes unsanitary simulated interaction.

“Why would I want to be interviewed by a digital version of myself?” Hoffman states at the beginning of the video. Primarily, it is apparently intended to summarize one of his books for a range of potential demographic audiences: the smartest person in the world, 5-year-old children, Seinfeld fans and Klingons. While Hoffman seems to love every next one Blitz scaling encapsulation (especially the 'smartest person') they all sound like it came from a ChatGPT prompt – which technically they did. The difference here is that, instead of just a text response, the words are given a Hoffman vocal approximation on top of a (still obviously artificial) video representation of the man.

Amid all his excitement, Hoffman – like so many influential tech industry figures – is once again betraying a fundamental misunderstanding of how generative AI works. Technology like OpenAI's GPT, no matter how busy with visual and audio additions, is incapable of understanding. When an AI responds, “Thanks” or “I think that's a good point,” they are not actually experiencing gratitude or thinking anything. Generative AI sees sentences as lines of code, where each letter or space is followed by the next, most likely letter or space. This can be adapted to conversation audio and dubbed to video characters, but that doesn't change the underlying functionality. It simply received new symbolic input that affects what essentially amounts to a super-powerful autocorrect system. Even if the language is set to Klingon, as Reid AI offers at one point.

So when Reid AI warns Hoffman that a wrong answer could result “because I misinterpreted the information you gave, or because I don't have the full context of your question,” Hoffman doesn't pause to explain the above facts to the viewers to lay. Instead, he moves on to his next talking point, usually with a plug for his books or LinkedIn.

[Related: A deepfake ‘Joe Biden’ robocall told voters to stay home for primary election.]

Meanwhile, Reid AI's visual component is said to be intended to simulate many of Hoffman's conversational mannerisms and queuing. Judging from Reid AI's performance, these largely amount to pompous attempts at 'nodding vigorously', 'tapping emphatically to illustrate a point' and 'picking his nose'. If New Atlas points out that the moment at 10:44 is an odd oddity to include in such an obviously compressed and edited video – perhaps intended to illustrate some of humanity's more awkward, relatable traits. If so, it does little to distract from the far more absurd and disturbing sentiments expressed by both Hoffmans.

Reid AI outlines standard techno-libertarian talking points for advancing a “framework that drives innovation.” Hoffman repeatedly believes that all the concerns about bias, privacy, labor and digital ownership are just a “beginning.”[ing] with the negative and [not realizing] all things that are positive.” The digital clone shows boring, uncreative ways to spruce up Hoffman's LinkedIn page, such as adding “personal flair” like a fun and colorful header image.

Reid AI and Reid Hoffman side by side
Credit: YouTube

But the most concerning moment comes when Hoffman claims, “Everyone should ask themselves, 'What can I do to help?'” making AI-like digital avatars more common. He even goes so far as to equate the current technological era with Europe's adoption of the steam engine, which made it “such a dominant force in the whole world.” (Neither he nor Reid AI, of course, admits the other tools involved in the Industrial Revolution – namely a colonialist system built on the labor of millions of exploited and enslaved people groups.)

Hoffman says future iterations of Reid AI will add “to the range of possibilities, to things I could do.” It's an extremely telling sentiment, implying that people like Hoffman have no qualms about erasing any boundary between their cloned and authentic selves. If nothing else, Hoffman has already found at least one task that Reid AI can perform for him.

“I'm curious to hear others' thoughts on how to mitigate impersonation and all other types of risks arising from such a use case and achieve 'responsible AI',” a LinkedIn user asked him in his comments announcement post.

“Good question… Here's Reid AI's answer,” Hoffman replied next to a link to a new avatar clip.

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