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After our video was released, it reached nearly a million people within weeks. It was circulated on social platforms and community sites, demonstrating the potent combination of synthetic media’s capacity to fool the eyes and social media’s capacity to reach eyeballs. The numbers matched up: 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.
When deepfakes came under the spotlight last year, some media ran with sensational headlines that signaled the “end of news” and “collapse of reality” — but how worried should we be?
The manipulation of media, both creative and nefarious, is not new. Society has long produced media with the capacity to cause harm. Consider Julian Dibbell’s 1993 Village Voice article “A Rape in Cyberspace,” reporting on a traumatic, then new, experience of a woman’s avatar
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An investigative journalist receives a video from an anonymous whistleblower. It shows a candidate for president admitting to illegal activity. But is this video real? If so, it would be huge news – the scoop of a lifetime – and could completely turn around the upcoming elections. But the journalist runs the video through a specialized tool, which tells her that the video isn’t what it seems. In fact, it’s a “deepfake,” a video made using artificial intelligence with deep learning.
Journalists all over the world could soon be using a tool like this. In a few years, a tool like this could even be used by everyone to root out fake content in their social media feeds.
As researchers who have been studying deepfake detection and developing a tool for journalists, we see a future for these tools. They won’t solve all our problems, though, and they will be
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While deepfakes have now been around for a number of years, deepfake casting and acting are relatively new. Early deepfake technologies weren’t very good, used primarily in dark corners of the internet to swap celebrities into porn videos without their consent. But as deepfakes have grown increasingly realistic, more and more artists and filmmakers have begun using them in broadcast-quality productions and TV ads. This means hiring real actors for one aspect of the performance or another. Some jobs require an actor to provide “base” footage; others need a voice.
For actors, it opens up exciting creative and professional possibilities. But it also raises a host of ethical questions. “This is so new that there’s no real process or anything like that,” Burgund says. “I mean, we were just sort of making things up and flailing about.”
“Want to become Nixon?”
The first thing Panetta and Burgund did was ask