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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tom Hanks disavows AI clone amid Hollywood’s robot reckoning

Tom Hanks, right, arrives with Rita Wilson for the screening of the film "Asteroid City" during the 76th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 23.  (Tribune News Service)
By Brian Contreras Los Angeles Times

In the midst of an actors’ strike motivated in part by concerns about what artificial intelligence means for the industry’s future, Tom Hanks just gave performers one more thing to worry about.

“Beware!” the “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan” star wrote in an Instagram post this Sunday. “There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it.”

Hanks, one of the most recognizable faces in the entertainment industry, included in his Instagram post what appeared to be a screenshot from the alleged AI-generated dental endorsement, showing a younger version of him in a black suit standing in front of a nondescript background.

The Times was unable to find the original ad or who produced it. Hanks’ team declined to comment.

AI and concerns about its use and abuse were among the issues that led actors to go on strike on July 14.

Performers have warned that AI “clones” – digital doubles that could give performances on a computer that no actor ever actually did – could prove disastrous for the profession. Additional concerns have centered on the use of pre-existing footage to train AI software, which relies on vast troves of prior data to generate new content.

“We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines,” union president Fran Drescher said this summer.

The union is meeting with the major Hollywood studios today after agreeing to resume bargaining. The Writers Guild of America, which was striking alongside SAG-AFTRA until recently, secured a tentative deal with the studios late last month that included substantial guardrails around the use of AI for screenwriting purposes. (That deal still needs to be ratified by the WGA’s members.)

The use of AI to digitally re-create someone’s visage, often called “deepfaking,” has been around for years, but recent advances in artificial intelligence – including for mass media purposes – have made such trickery easier than ever.

There are also above-the-board uses for AI, of course. Software companies aimed at the entertainment industry have pitched the technology as a solution for everything from stunt work to motion capture to dialogue redubbing.

But when actors’ consent is taken out of the picture, people start to get worried. That’s what happened with Tom Hanks’ illegitimate dental endorsement, but also what’s motivated him and other actors to grind Hollywood to a halt as they demand more stringent AI regulations.