Deep Fakes

22/12/19

Technology is a funny old thing. It's often said that the technology itself is neither good nor bad; but the people that use it are. Nowhere is this more true than the new development in video manipulation of Deep Fakes. While previously doing something like replacing a face on an actor on film required expensive computers and painstaking frame-by-frame repainting work, the advancement of both software and hardware has placed this tool in the hands of us all. And being humans the first thing we did was, of course, make porn with it. Famous actors and actresses suddenly found their heads on other people's bodies, leading to them having to issue denials that it was really them in the footage. Arguments were made about the privacy angle and the moral issues surrounding the use of such an application in this way.

It didn't take long for more nefarious actors to realise that this technology could be used for even more evil ways. A few years ago we began to see news stories spring up regarding the use of the technology to make it appear as though politicians and world leaders were saying and doing things that never actually happened. A great driver in this was the use of AI-driven software to make the effect more natural-looking, as well as giving the ability to create new words and sounds from a small recording of source material of someone else's voice. The propaganda use of such technology is obvious, and given the use of more traditionally-edited video to smear Nancy Pelosi earlier in the year with her appearing to slur her words thanks to some slowed-down video it doesn't seem too out of the ordinary to suggest that deep fakes will be used in the future in this way. That clip of Pelosi. incidentally, was shared by Trump without any mention of the obvious manipulation.

An interesting aside of the technology is that it has now given an "out" to people who want to deny that a video features them. The "it's a fake!" defence is often applied to photographs, and the quality of the deep fake software available means that the line between manipulation being obvious to a keen eye and completely unnoticeable is narrowing. A particularly scary example of deep fake videos, if you've still never seen them, is the one featuring the actor Bill Hader on a late night show morphing into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogen while doing the accents himself (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2daN4eRTs4A). A sufficiently good voice actor could therefore be used as the soundtrack without any AI or soundclips needed. With all of these advances creeping into modern day life it makes the job of the skeptic much harder and more important, and it will be interesting and/or scary to see what news events are driven by the technology in the future.

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