TikTok's AI Avatars: Realistic or Just Creepy?

Some suggest that artificial intelligence is too smart

[TheChronicle.cc] – Back in April, The Information reported that TikTok was developing AI-generated avatars for advertisers. Now, TikTok has officially announced these new AI-created “digital avatars,” which will soon be available to creators and brands on the platform.

These AI personas aim to simplify the creation of branded content, giving it a “human feel” without the extensive time and resources typically required for high-production ads. TikTok is introducing two types of avatars: stock avatars based on paid actors and custom avatars modeled after existing creators and brand spokespeople. These avatars will feature in TikTok videos, promoting products and can be customized to speak different languages based on the target audience.

TikTok claims this new feature demonstrates how generative AI can help creators reach more people and, presumably, boost ad revenue. However, after seeing a few examples, I'm not thrilled about the idea of AI-generated creators populating my For You feed.

Take, for example, the custom avatar based on TikTok exec Adrienne Lahens. While the avatar resembles her, the speaking style and movements are off. There’s a noticeable jerkiness in the head and hand movements that’s reminiscent of the uncanny, robot-like M3GAN. Moreover, the eyes of AI Adrienne are particularly unsettling.

Having spoken with Lahens before, I can attest that her real-life demeanor is far warmer and more natural than her AI counterpart. Even the AI avatar of creator O’Neil Thomas, featured at the top of the article, has a disconcerting, distant stare that doesn’t capture Thomas’ true personality.

TikTok isn’t the first to dabble in “realistic” AI, often resulting in creations that feel unnervingly off. Fortunately, TikTok's rules mandate prominent disclosures for this type of content. While these new avatars might help sell more TikTok Shop gadgets or viral products, I hope TikTok finds a way to make those AI-generated eyeballs a bit less creepy.