Nvidia-backed startup Synthesia unveils AI avatars that can convey human emotions

An animated avatar generated by the AI video platform Synthesia.

Nvidia-backed artificial intelligence firm Synthesia on Thursday unveiled a new wave of AI-generated digital avatars that can convey human emotions using a user’s text inputs.

The company said its “Expressive Avatars” can blur the lines between the virtual world and real characters. It aims to eliminate cameras, microphones, actors, lengthy edits and other costs from the professional video production process. Synthesia has a studio in London, where actors read scripts in front of a green screen to train the system.

In one demonstration, the company showed three lines of text being inserted into its platform — “I am happy. I am sad. I am frustrated” — after which the AI-generated actor in the video responded by reading the text in the tone of each corresponding emotion.

The company’s technology is used by more than 55,000 businesses, including half of the Fortune 100, to make digital avatars for corporate presentations and training videos, according to Synthesia.

Founded in 2017, Synthesia raised $90 million from investors last year at a valuation of around $1 billion, making it one of Britain’s more recent AI “unicorn” firms. Accel, Kleiner Perkins, GV, FirstMark Capital and MMC are also shareholders.

The company addressed concerns over how its videos might be used to create fake news content, saying publishers must sign up as enterprise customers to make synthetic avatars. Content made with its technology is vetted by moderators.

Synthesia doesn’t publicly disclose pricing for its enterprise customers.

The company also requires all of its new clients to undergo a thorough “Know Your Customer” process similar to that used by the banking industry, which helps prevent bad actors from creating fake company profiles to spread misinformation.

Synthesia said it’s already preparing for the upcoming global elections and has implemented a range of controls to ensure its platform isn’t abused by hostile actors seeking to manipulate the outcome of various votes.

The company is also a part of the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity — an organization of AI companies that aims to implement content credentials and digital “watermarking” of AI-generated content to ensure viewers know that what they are looking at is made by artificial intelligence and not by a human.

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