Winklevoss Twins, Logan Paul Back Metaverse Startup Metaphysic

Emily Nicolle | 2 years ago

(Bloomberg) -- The Winklevoss twins’ venture capital firm and YouTube star Logan Paul are among a group investing in Metaphysic, an artificial-intelligence startup best known for fooling the world with deepfake videos of Tom Cruise.

The $7.5 million round was led by Google Ventures founder Bill Maris through his venture capital firm Section 32, alongside Winklevoss Capital Management LLC, Meta Platforms Inc.’s virtual reality unit Oculus and Palantir Technologies Inc. backer 8VC and TO Ventures. The group also included a host of unnamed “very high-profile content creators, actors [and] sports people,” Tom Graham, co-founder and chief executive of Metaphysic, said in an interview.

One of Metaphysic’s other co-founders, Chris Umé, made headlines in March after he created a series of eerily realistic videos of Cruise, which led the Belgian visual effects specialist to formally set up the business. The clips, which used AI and synthetic media to swap out the face of a Cruise lookalike with the actor’s image, raised concern about how such technology could pose a privacy violation of people’s biometric data, as well as be used for malicious purposes. 

Now, Metaphysic hopes to use those tools to help creators and businesses “ethically” develop content for everything from marketing campaigns to virtual workspaces in the metaverse -- an immersive environment of digital worlds, explored by real people as avatars via virtual-reality headsets. To date, the majority of metaverse content created by platforms like Meta has been cartoonish, as if designed in the earlier days of video games with block hairstyles and bug-eyed faces. 

“The hyper-real part is really important to us,” said Graham. “Just like the deep Tom Cruise thing -- where it’s very difficult to tell the difference between whether it’s really Tom Cruise or not Tom Cruise -- things become particularly interesting when you can create content where it was filmed like on a traditional camera, but in fact no cameras were involved. Your creative possibilities, what you can do there, really explode.”

The metaverse is part of a global shift toward the creation of Web3 -- a third, decentralized iteration of the internet where users are the owners of their data, rather than large corporations such as Meta’s Facebook and Alphabet Inc.. Graham said Metaphysic hopes to allow “individuals to have a heightened degree of ownership of control and ownership” over their data, in addition to ensuring content is produced responsibly.

“Luckily the technology used to make really good deepfakes or synthetic media today is relatively hard to use,” he said. “There really are genuine systemic social concerns. It’s harder to control the specific personal harm that is potentially a result of someone in a small town making a revenge porn deepfake of someone they know, and then distributing that locally without a robust verification network.”

Some of its new backers like Paul viewed investing in the startup as an emerging media opportunity, Graham said, while the company saw the influencer’s involvement as a way to tap into younger demographics. Metaphysic plans to use the funding to finance the development of its technology for use by metaverse platforms to create a “hyper-real synthetic likeness” of users, Graham said, “not like funny avatars”.

“Regular people don’t have a huge amount of time on their hands to create highly-curated professional content or make their own best robot avatar,” he said. “We think the future will be like, you go into the online Gucci store and try on a jacket with your real face, looking as it would look like on your body.”

Around $30 billion was invested in crypto-related endeavors, including Web3, by venture capital companies in 2021, according to data from PitchBook. The metaverse is also fast becoming an enticing investment opportunity for influencers and tech firms alike, attracting familiar names such as Paris Hilton and Microsoft Corp. in its recent $69 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard Inc.  

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