Plenty of people are following the final days of the midterm election campaigns. Yale law researcher Rebecca Crootof has a special interest--a small wager. If she wins, victory will be bitter sweet, like the Manhattan cocktail that will be her prize. In June, Crootof bet that before 2018 is out an electoral campaign somewhere in the world will be roiled by a deepfake--a video generated by machine learning software that shows someone doing or saying something that in fact they did not do or say. Under the terms of the bet, the video must receive more than 2 million views before being debunked.
A perfect storm arising from the world of pornography may threaten the U.S. elections in 2020 with disruptive political scandals having nothing to do with actual affairs. Instead, face-swapping "deepfake" technology that first became popular on porn websites could eventually generate convincing fake videos of politicians saying or doing things that never happened in real life--a scenario that could sow widespread chaos if such videos are not flagged and debunked in time. The thankless task of debunking fake images and videos online has generally fallen upon news reporters, fact-checking websites and some sharp-eyed good Samaritans. But the more recent rise of AI-driven deepfakes that can turn Hollywood celebrities and politicians into digital puppets may require additional fact-checking help from AI-driven detection technologies. An Amsterdam-based startup called Deeptrace Labs aims to become one of the go-to shops for such deepfake detection technologies.
In retrospect, Nisos experts made the right forecast. However, this was a clear minority opinion. Before and after their report, dozens of politicians and institutions drew considerable attention to the approaching danger: 'imagine a scenario where, on the eve of next year's presidential election, the Democratic nominee appears in a video where he or she endorses President Trump. Now, imagine it the other way around.' (Sprangler, 2019). It is fair to say that deepfakes' high potential for disinformation was noticed long before these hypothetical consequences were evoked, mainly because they were revealed to be highly credible. Two examples: 'In an online quiz, 49 percent of people who visited our site said they incorrectly believed Nixon's synthetically altered face was real and 65 percent thought his voice was real' (Panetta et al, 2020), or'Two-thirds of participants believed that one day it would be impossible to discern a real video from a fake one.
None of these people exist. These images were generated using deepfake technology. Last month during ESPN's hit documentary series The Last Dance, State Farm debuted a TV commercial that has become one of the most widely discussed ads in recent memory. It appeared to show footage from 1998 of an ESPN analyst making shockingly accurate predictions about the year 2020. As it turned out, the clip was not genuine: it was generated using cutting-edge AI.
About a year ago, top deepfake artist Hao Li came to a disturbing realization: Deepfakes, i.e. the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence (AI) to create fake content, is rapidly evolving. In fact, Li believes that in as soon as six months, deepfake videos will be completely undetectable. And that's spurring security and privacy concerns as the AI behind the technology becomes commercialized – and gets in the hands of malicious actors. Li, for his part, has seen the positives of the technology as a pioneering computer graphics and vision researcher, particularly for entertainment. He has worked his magic on various high-profile deepfake applications – from leading the charge in putting Paul Walker into Furious 7 after the actor died before the film finished production, to creating the facial-animation technology that Apple now uses in its Animoji feature in the iPhone X.