Visitors to The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, will now be greeted by a digitally resurrected simulation of Salvador Dali. Created using machine learning and deepfake technologies, the digital Dali is programmed to communicate in novel ways, from commenting on the day's weather to taking a selfie with museum patrons.
Unveiled on the 115th anniversary of the legendary surrealist's birth, the project is called Dali Lives. To create this digitally-generated visage of Dali an AI algorithm analyzed hundreds of interviews to learn the unique movements of the artist's face and an actor with a physical frame similar to Dali was filmed in a variety of scenarios. A technique similar to that of the infamous deepfake technology was then applied, seamlessly planting the artificially constructed Dali face onto the actor's body.
A voice actor was recorded, using quotes from Dali's own writings and interviews, resulting in the creation of over 100 unique clips featuring the artist doing everything from discussing his life and work to commenting on the weather.
Dali Lives spans three different locations in The Dali Museum, from welcoming visitors at the entrance to offering a goodbye selfie at the gift shop as they leave. He appears life-sized on large video screens and is conjured by visitors through the press of a button.
"Dali was prophetic in many ways and understood his historical importance," says executive director at The Dali Museum Hank Hine. "He wrote, 'If someday I may die, though it is unlikely, I hope the people in the cafes will say, "Dali has died, but not entirely."' This technology lets visitors experience his bigger-than-life personality in addition to our unparalleled collection of his works."
The ethics of digitally resurrecting long-gone icons has been hotly debated over the past few years. As technology evolves we are nearing the point where photo-realistic simulations of anybody can be easily created to do and say pretty much anything. And once somebody is long gone, who has the ability to control how their likeness is managed?
In 2015 it was revealed that Robin Williams had filed a novel deed before his death that explicitly restricted the posthumous use of his likeness and image. This was one of the first times such a restrictive posthumous direction had been laid out by a major celebrity but it surely was a sign of things to come.
This Dali Lives project was developed with the support and approval of The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, and it's no surprise the artist's estate was in favor of this enterprise. Dali is so perfectly suited to the idea of digital reincarnation it's hard to imagine a better combination of technology and subject. The surrealist artist, known to refer to himself in the third person, once suggested that, while he generally believes in death, "the death of Dali, absolutely not. Believe in my death becoming very – almost impossible."
Take a look at the making of the Salvador Dali digital avatar in the video below.
Source: The Dali Museum
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