Originally posted on Technology Review by Karen Hao

You can see the faint stubble coming in on his upper lip, the wrinkles on his forehead, the blemishes on his skin. He isn’t a real person, but he’s meant to mimic one—as are the hundreds of thousands of others made by Datagen, a company that sells fake, simulated humans.

These humans are not gaming avatars or animated characters for movies. They are synthetic data designed to feed the growing appetite of deep-learning algorithms. Firms like Datagen offer a compelling alternative to the expensive and time-consuming process of gathering real-world data. They will make it for you: how you want it, when you want—and relatively cheaply.

To generate its synthetic humans, Datagen first scans actual humans. It partners with vendors who pay people to step inside giant full-body scanners that capture every detail from their irises to their skin texture to the curvature of their fingers. The startup then takes the raw data and pumps it through a series of algorithms, which develop 3D representations of a person’s body, face, eyes, and hands.

The company, which is based in Israel, says it’s already working with four major US tech giants, though it won’t disclose which ones on the record. Its closest competitor, Synthesis AI, also offers on-demand digital humans. Other companies generate data to be used in finance, insurance, and health care. There are about as many synthetic-data companies as there are types of data.

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