Generative AI Deepfakes: Volkswagen Ad Revives Brazilian Singer, Raises Ethics Concerns

In a recent advertisement celebrating Volkswagen’s 70th birthday in Brazil, the late Brazilian singer Elis Regina was resurrected through artificial intelligence (AI) technology. The ad features a duet between Regina and her daughter, Maria Rita, sparking both joy and ethical concerns.

Emotional Reactions and Ethical Concerns

Regina’s unexpected death in 1982 at the age of 36 left Brazil in mourning. Her recent re-emergence, performing a soul-stirring duet with her daughter, has led to scenes of catharsis and nostalgia. The AI-created collaboration, which took over 2,400 hours to produce, has also sparked an impassioned debate over the ethics of artificial intelligence and its impact on the music industry and society as a whole.

Public Response and Regulatory Scrutiny

The onscreen revival of Regina, who died more than four decades ago, has been met with discomfort and in some cases outrage. Critics have pointed out that Regina, a staunch opponent of Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, could not have approved of her image being used in this way, especially given Volkswagen’s notorious collaboration with the regime. In response to these concerns, Brazil’s advertising watchdog, Conar, announced it would investigate a possible breach of ethics.

Volkswagen’s Defense and Family Approval

Volkswagen defended its campaign, stating that the idea was to use AI to create a unique moment that reunited one of the greatest singers in the history of Brazilian music with her daughter, a contemporary icon. The company added that the production had the blessing of the singer’s family. Elis’s eldest son, music producer João Marcello Bôscoli, hailed the discussion his mother’s reappearance had triggered and how the advert had revealed a more emotional, playful, and artistic side to a technology often associated with fake news and memes.

The Power of Music and AI

Bôscoli described his emotional reaction to watching his mother’s deepfake renaissance a few days before the commercial aired. He also highlighted the power of great music to evoke emotions, feelings, and ideas, even when presented through an AI mask. The campaign has been successful in terms of engagement, with the YouTube version being watched more than 16 million times and Elis Regina’s songs being streamed more than 20 million times since the ad first aired.

AI in the Music Industry: A New Frontier

This is not the first time a Brazilian artist has performed alongside a late relative using technology. However, the controversy over Regina’s appearance points to trepidation over the kind of technology used, which Bôscoli predicts will soon become an almost invisible presence in our lives, like our supply of water, gas, or electricity. As AI continues to evolve and become more integrated into various industries, including music, it is crucial to continue these discussions about its ethical implications.

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