We are used to dig­i­tal fak­ery, from Pho­to­shopped fash­ion shoots to block­buster CGI ef­fects—we know all is not as it ap­pears. The fak­ery may not be new, but the ease and ac­cu­racy with which it can be done us­ing a ma­chine learn­ing sys­tem is alarm­ing.

Wit­ness deep­fake; this emerged in the fall of 2017, when a num­ber of porno­graphic videos, ap­par­ently fea­tur­ing celebri­ties, ap­peared. All ar­ti­fi­cial. Deep­fake uses a neu­ral net­work to su­per­im­pose faces on to fig­ures in videos. It’s trained us­ing mul­ti­ple im­ages of the tar­get vic­tim, and can op­er­ate in near real time. It was soon fol­lowed by FakeApp, a sim­ple ap­pli­ca­tion ver­sion of which re­quired lit­tle programing skill. Now it be­came pos­si­ble to eas­ily sub­vert the verisimil­i­tude of videos shared on­line.

De­spite be­ing banned on a num­ber of so­cial me­dia plat­forms, deep­fake is still wide­spread. It has been used to cre­ate po­lit­i­cal satire, plain mock­ery, and put to more de­vi­ous and hurt­ful uses, as well as putting the face of Ni­co­las Cage on fa­mous movie clips for no good rea­son at all, other than to cre­ate an In­ter­net meme.

There are lim­its—while pretty im­pres­sive, close in­spec­tion does re­veal odd­i­ties. But, if you’re scan­ning through video clips on your phone, a deep­fake fake would read­ily slip by un­no­ticed. These are dan­ger­ous wa­ters, and they make it more im­por­tant than

ever to al­ways trace the source of some­thing be­fore you give it cre­dence—un­for­tu­nately, some­thing that is easy to preach, but not so sim­ple to fol­low in prac­tice.

There’s more to come: Deep Video Por­traits, for ex­am­ple. These go fur­ther, and en­able you to use the move­ments and fa­cial ex­pres­sions of one per­son us­ing the head of another. Now you can have your fakes move and ex­press them­selves any­way you wish, rather than merely be­ing su­per­im­posed on to a tar­get video. Full dig­i­tal avatars of any­one we want made pos­si­ble from your desk­top can’t be that far away. The de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion of Hol­ly­wood CGI ef­fects per­haps, but not without ram­i­fi­ca­tions to trust.

This deep­fake pres­i­dent was cre­ated by Jor­dan Peele and Jonah Peretti to il­lus­trate deep­fake’s dan­gers; it fol­lows Peretti’s voice.

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