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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Synthetic data — the generation of artificial images to train AI and computer vision — will be key to building out a future metaverse.

Why it matters: AI has long been trained on images — including human faces — captured from the real world, but doing so can create serious privacy concerns.

  • Using synthetic data instead can help sidestep that issue, though it brings new worries about accuracy and authenticity.

Driving the news: Facebook announced on Tuesday that it plans to shut down its decade-old facial recognition system and delete the facial scans of more than a billion users, out of what it said were privacy concerns.

Between the lines: Increasingly, privacy concerns will lead companies to move from capturing real faces and other images to train AI as they transition to using synthetically generated data.

  • Tel Aviv-based synthetic data company Datagen does high-quality level digital scans and motion capture of real people and objects and then uses AI to generate realistic but not real versions.
  • Gartner predicted recently that by 2024, 60% of the data used for the development of AI and analytics projects will be synthetically generated.

The big picture: Since images of real people aren't being used directly, privacy and bias are less of a concern.

  • Early computer vision systems were often trained on datasets taken from the internet that were disproportionately white and male, which meant they were less accurate in recognizing faces from other races and genders.
  • With synthetic data, "you can incorporate the real distributions of the real world, so there's no bias among age, gender and more," says Gil Elbaz, co-founder and CTO of Datagen.

The catch: Some experts worry synthetic data may not be as valid as the real thing, which could damage the performance of AI models trained on it.

  • Many of the same tools used to generate synthetic faces for AI training could also be used to create convincing deepfakes, though Elbaz notes technical tools like smart contracts could be used to separate synthetics from fakes.

What's next: Synthetic data will be key to creating a more realistic version of the AR and VR future called the metaverse.

  • "The metaverse is going to have a hardware and software component," says Elbaz. "Synthetic data will be part of the software that enables the right kind of hardware."

Go deeper

Updated Nov 23, 2021 - Technology

China's new privacy law leaves U.S. behind

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

While China's sweeping new data privacy laws have left tech companies confused about how to comply, they also put the U.S. even further behind in the global race to set digital standards.

What's happening: China enacted its Personal Information Privacy Law earlier this month, following Europe as the second major international player to have its own sweeping data privacy regulations.

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."