London ball

The London start-up that rigged Tom Cruise closes fundraising

Deepfaking Tom Cruise isn’t a claim most will make proudly, but AI content fintech Metaphysic has bragging rights.

The startup is behind the viral videos which garnered millions of views on TikTok, showing Cruise awkwardly traveling, before smashing a golf ball and then, strangely, enjoying a lollipop with a bubblegum center.

There is only one thing: it is not Tom Cruise at all, but a creation of Metaphysic. The company is now aiming to grow in an effort to grow its business, which automates the development of artificial intelligence used for hyper-realistic virtual experiences best enjoyed in the metaverse.

Metaphysic co-founder and chief executive Thomas Graham said he couldn’t yet figure out what this would mean for his startup, which is among several smaller fintechs seeking funding for their abilities to create AI with potential for the Metaverse.

But Tom Cruise’s deepfake definitely caught the eye.

It had such an impact that the London-based company closed its first outside fundraising round – the largest ever at $7.5 million – with a cohort of top tech angels. Leading the VC celebrity cohort is Section 32 venture capitalist Bill Maris, who founded Google Ventures. Meanwhile, the company has also caught the eye of celebrity YouTuber Logan Paul and the Winkelvoss Twins, as well as 8VC and TO Ventures.

“I actually have no idea what the industry is worth,” Graham said. “It’s more or less the same as the potential size of the metaverse opportunity…. there’s a lot going on in the metaverse around infrastructure, web 3 economy payments. [With] all of those things, we’re kind of talking about the ability to create more interesting and better content with AI tools, doing that kind of heavy content creation work,” Graham said.

It is not yet known how much this industry could be worth – the figure reaches 20 billion dollars according to a January 19 Trend Report from California-based Meticulous Market Research. The same company said the Metaverse market had already reached $21 billion in 2020 and predicted it would grow 41% by 2030.

Talk to Financial News from Australia, where he is finally visiting family after two years of lockdown cancellations, Graham said the fundraiser was a month-long exercise that ended in November. The company is now focusing on the next big step – how to move towards content automation.

This means growing the team to 50 people from a base of 15 fully remote employees, spread across the UK, Netherlands, US and Portugal.

“Even though the performance, from a technological point of view, is already extremely good, we are taking the last step towards full automation. Hyper-real synthetic media is a central focus,” Graham said.

As co-founder with Chris Hume, the company also wants to move towards creating a platform “where we can bring regular users and our hyper-real likenesses” into platforms and spaces. Metaverse-like, such as meetings and Zoom calls. The development is of great value to content creators – actors, tutors, advertising industry and FMCG companies as well – who have all shown interest.

The downsides of such technology don’t require huge leaps of the imagination – deepfake opens up a minefield in navigating laws regarding revenge porn and privacy, to name a few.

“As we create technology, we need to think about the ethical and social outcomes of being able to create content and media.” It’s not necessarily a Wild West, he says, arguing that there are copyright defamation laws, alongside established laws, that can be used to combat harmful uses of synthetic media.

“When you’re developing the technology and you have to be very deliberate in thinking about the regulatory structure and the law-making that has to happen at the highest level.”

Still, before the fundraiser, Graham said celebrity investors had reached out, showing interest in projects that would use Metaphysic’s developments.

“When you’re a celebrity or a really established content creator, you have control over what you do. [Celebrity content creators] saw some really creative interesting possibilities that came out of technology,” Graham said, citing the use a content creator or celebrity would have of being able to mirror their image on another person, in order to project their personality when speaking. in other languages.

And the latest technology also goes beyond CGI, which Graham says has limitations with the human element, making human beings look cartoonish at best. De-aging is another application, he said, citing the de-aging of 60 Minutes American journalist Bill Whitaker.

“So if you’re a 60-year-old celebrity, but want to be an advertisement in an advertisement as yourself at 20, we can render you completely differently. So the celebrities giving the performance [could look] like themselves at 20,” Graham said.

The Wild West of the metaverse?

But the dark side of alternate digital worlds is quickly becoming apparent. As a former lawyer, who is also in informal contact with regulators, Graham said he is aware of the issues. The unregulated nature of the sector has led some to suggest it could lead to a proliferation of digital sexual violence, primarily against women, and the potential grooming of children by paedophiles.

But he doubts the Wild West’s reputation currently making headlines as journalists enter the Metaverse to recount their first-hand experiences, with disturbing reports of the interactions young, high-risk participants reportedly face.

Metaphysics is about “promoting the precious, joyful and creative good outcomes” of technology, he said.

To contact the author of this story with comments or news, email Penny Sukhraj