Review: ‘How I Faked My Life With AI,’ starring Kyle Vorbach

June 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kyle Vorbach in “How I Faked My Life With AI”

“How I Faked My Life With AI”

Directed by Kyle Vorbach

Culture Representation: The documentary film “How I Faked My Life With AI” features a predominantly white group of people (with a one black person and one Asian person) who are connected in some way to filmmaker Kyle Vorbach or expertise on artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology.

Culture Clash: Kyle Vorbach makes a documentary film about fooling his friends and other people with various online fabrications about his life, with the fabrications made through A.I. technology.

Culture Audience: “How I Faked My Life With AI” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about how A.I. can be used in elaborate con schemes or documentaries about online pranks or social experiments that are taken to extreme levels.

Kyle Vorbach in “How I Faked My Life With AI”

“How I Faked My Life With AI” blurs the line between being a vanity project and an informative chronicle about elaborate fakery using artificial intelligence. Kyle Vorbach is the director and star of this provocative but repetitive documentary. There are many times in the film where it seems like Vorbach just wants to show off his computer skills in creating complex hoaxes, rather than adequately explaining a meaningful purpose for these hoaxes. However, the documentary is saved because Vorbach includes perspectives of people who aren’t his friends and who can talk about the benefits and pitfalls of A.I. technology.

Vorbach is not only the star and director of “How I Faked My Life With AI,” but he is also the movie’s screenwriter, cinematographer, editor and one of the movie’s producers. “How I Faked My Life With AI” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival. In the beginning of the documentary, Vorbach explains in a voiceover narration that ever since he was a kid, he liked to live in his own world. He thought he wanted to be either a rock star or a magician. (He dabbled in doing both jobs as an adult.)

However, when he got the idea to do this documentary (which Vorbach says was filmed over one year), it was at a low point in his life when he was an aspiring filmmaker based in Los Angeles but was temporarily living with his parents in Rochester, New York. He was trying to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life because his film career wasn’t going the way he expected. (Translation: He was unemployed and bored.)

It started as an online prank and grew into various schemes where he fooled his closest friends and many other people. The documentary includes the friends’ reactions when Vorbach told them the truth. It should come as no surprise when about midway through the documentary, Vorbach reveals to viewers that the narration for the documentary is not really his voice but is an A.I.-generated voice.

Vorbach says in the movie’s opening scenes that he felt isolated and lonely during this period of time in his life when he was living with his parents. His girlfriend Caitlin Vetere (who is seen in the documentary) was in another state, and she became one of the unwitting victims in his elaborate A.I. hoaxes. Vorbach said it started with him playing around with A.I. programs that take texted words and turned them into images. He tested these programs using the images of his dog and other dogs.

It wasn’t long before Vorbach began doing the same thing to photos of himself and combining them with photos of celebrities whom people said Vorbach resembles, such as Ryan Gosling and Macauley Culkin. The resulting images looked like slightly different versions of the real Vorbach. Vorbach says in a voiceover what he thought at the time: “If I’m already generating my pictures, why not generate a brand new life?”

Vorbach then created an avatar that he secretly called Ryan Gosling Person that he used for these schemes. Using this avatar and A.I. technology, Vorbach posted images on his social media accounts that made it look like Vorbach had taken exciting trips to New York City and Los Angeles, when in fact he had been staying the entire time at his parents’ home in Rochester. All of his friends were fooled.

Vorbach comments that he took his hoaxes a step further by fabricating other people by using A.I. technology. He says he was inspired by the true story of Donald Trump pretending to be his own publicist when communicating in writing or by phone with journalists and editors. (The documentary includes an archival clip audio recording of Trump doing this publicist impersonation.) Vorbach says, “If I could fake my own success, maybe I could feel that way all the time or at least a little bit longer.”

It led to Vorbach using an A.I.-generated photo of himself to create a publicist character representing Vorbach. Vorbach also created a fake website and a fake business for his fake publicist, who began pitching Vorbach to the media as an “A.I. expert” who authored a book called “Pandora’s Code.” (The book was secretly written entirely by A.I.) And sure enough, Vorbach began getting requests for interviews about his “A.I. expertise.” He even gave a TED talk under this new fake profession.

As seen in the documentary, the schemes got even more elaborate. They included Vorbach fabricating a news outlet called WHNY, which had the slogan “News From the Heart of New York.” Vorbach, using his own photos to make himself look like a middle-aged man, fabricated an A.I.-generated persona as a WHNY reporter named Chris Washington, who did videoconference interviews with Vorbach’s unwitting friends about Vorbach. Vorbach used A.I. to disguise his face and voice when doing these interviews as the fabricated journalist Chris Washington.

In another of his A.I. hoaxes, Vorbach posed as a successful DJ/dance music artist named Berkly Havoc, with help from real DJ/music producer David Block. Using the name Berkly Havoc, Vorbach created and released music using A.I. and was booked for a party, where he played music that was made entirely from A.I. technology. At the party, he pretended to be mixing songs live, when he was actually faking it. Some of the party attendees (who are not named in the movie) are seen reacting to finding out that the DJ was not really operating the equipment and was playing only A.I.-generated music. None of the people interviewed seemed to care because they said they liked the music and weren’t really paying attention to the DJ.

Vorbach did another art-related A.I. stunt by using A.I. to generate fake art paintings to look like hand-made paintings, with Vorbach credited as the artist. Each of the paintings had an image of Vorbach in some type of heroic or fantasy scenario. Vorbach went as far as renting art gallery space to have an exhibit for this artwork. At first no one showed up, but Vorbach figured out a way to get people to go to the gallery. The documentary doesn’t disclose what he did to get people to attend, but considering Vorbach already showed marketing skills online for his other schemes, it’s not surprising that he got unsuspecting people to look at this fake artwork in a real art gallery space.

The documentary includes real reactions from unsuspecting gallery attendees (who are also unnamed in the documentary) before and after they find out that the artwork was made entirely by A.I. technology. Most were surprised but not upset. One woman who expressed some displeasure said that artists have an ethical obligation to divulge if any of their art was A.I.-generated. Before she found out the truth, the woman commented that the artist seemed like a “playful nerd.” Another attendee said the artist looks like a narcissist.

When Vorbach’s friends (who are only identified by their first names) find out the truth about how they were fooled by Vorbach, there are varying reactions. Some are amused. Some are embarrassed. And one of the friends comes right out and says he is hurt and offended, especially by Vorbach posing as fake WHNY journalist Chris Washington. To Vorbach’s credit, he does make apologies and he includes some of the scathing criticism he received for these deceptive stunts. Almost all of the friends say they can no longer completely trust what Vorbach puts online about himself.

The general consensus from the friends is that they weren’t too shocked about Vorbach faking photos of trips that he never took. But they were surprised by the lengths he went to in creating people that don’t exist in real life. The movie has astute observations that anyone who spends so much time creating these complex con games is missing out on enjoying real life. It’s a commentary that Vorbach seems to understand and admit to but doesn’t really take to heart because he (by his own admission) became too caught up in making this documentary.

A few of his friends reveal later in the documentary that Vorbach has had some health-related traumas in life that probably caused him to develop obsessions with creating these A.I.-generated fantasies about himself. One of the traumas was that he experienced a horrific accident that derailed his music career and required long-term physical therapy. At the time of the accident, Vorbach was in a rock band that had been scheduled to be on the Warped Tour. And at the time that Vorbach had been living with his parents when he came up with ideas for his A.I. hoaxes, his mother had been battling cancer, and he was there to be a caregiver for her.

These stories seem to be in the movie to make Vorbach look more sympathetic. But it just raises questions that the documentary doesn’t bother to answer. If Vorbach was a caregiver for his terminally ill mother, what does that say about his caregiver priorities at the same time he was spending untold numbers of obsessive hours working on these elaborate A.I. hoaxes? Once this information is revealed in the documentary, it actually makes Vorbach look less sympathetic, considering he said multiple times in the documentary that he sequestered himself away from everyone in his life to make this movie. What type of caregiver does that?

Vorbach doesn’t really do any self-analysis about what his friends have observed about him. He does seem remorseful about any hurt or mistrust that he caused, but he also seems to shrug it off as collateral damage for the documentary he wanted to make. Overall, Vorbach comes across as someone who craves a lot of public attention, and this film is one way to get it.

After a while, the documentary becomes a repetitive string of scenarios of Vorbach showing ways in which he tricked people using A.I. and then dealing with the consequences later. Nothing he did was illegal, per se, but questions can certainly arise about the ethics of many things that he did. What really separates Vorbach from the untold numbers of people who also create false identities for themselves on the Internet is that he made a documentary about it that premiered at a major film festival.

“How I Faked My Life With AI” greatly benefits from perspectives of people who offer their takes on the larger implications of what Vorbach and other people do with A.I. technology and how it can affect society as a whole. A.I. professor De Kai (also known as Dekai Wu) and actress Taylor Misiak warn of the dangers of what “deep fake” images and videos can do to real people if used for nefarious reasons. “We need to question everything,” Kai says about what can be seen online.

A.I. artist/strategist Taryn Southern has a more optimistically cautious view of A.I. technology. She mentions the benefits that A.I. technology can have in medical care. However, she also raises alarming concerns about how A.I. is used for “deep fake” visuals, especially when it comes to creating fake pornography. “We have to combat that really quickly,” Southern says of illegal “deep fake” usage.

Voice actor Ian Cardoni says that it’s paranoid to think that A.I. technology is going to take over the world. He comments on actors’ fears that they will be completely replaced by A.I. technology: “I reject that notion entirely.” Meanwhile, filmmaker Paul Trillo thinks that A.I. will continue to grow but “life experiences are irreplaceable.” Other people interviewed in the documentary are author/journalist Molly Crabapple, conspiracy theorist researcher/debunker Jake Rockatansky, filmmaker Jim Cummings and artist/entrepreneur Olive Allen.

“How I Faked My Life With AI” is worth watching as a cautionary tale to make people more aware to not automatically believe everything that they see at surface-level. It’s also a fascinating portrait of filmmaker narcissism, although Vorbach’s antics get a little tiresome to watch. “How I Faked My Life With AI” is not the type of documentary that will become so beloved, it will inspire repeats viewings for most people. It’s one of those “one and done” movies that you can watch once out of curiousity, and you won’t be surprised if you don’t want to see the entire movie again.

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