What if you can't trust your own eyes and ears anymore? We know that there are masterful imitators who can imitate almost any voice as if the person is speaking the words. But deepfake adds a whole new dimension of possibilities and threats. Image manipulation can bring a picture of someone to life.
This means that if someone has a picture of you and can imitate your voice, a video may suddenly appear on the Internet in which you say things you've never said. Maybe even a confession to a criminal offense.
Deepfake is a combination of 'deep learning' and 'fake news'. Deep learning is the Artificial Intelligence technology used to enable image manipulation.
The results of deepfake are astonishingly realistic but are currently mainly used in the porn industry. Faces of almost exclusively female porn actresses are being realistically replaced by celebrities. This of course to the great annoyance of the celebrities themselves who can do almost nothing about it.
Only 1 photo needed to bring someone to life
At the beginning of 2019, the Samsung research lab in Moscow produced realistic film images of Einstein using only 1 old photograph. The same was done with Marilyn Monroe and even with a picture of the painting of the Mona Lisa!
Even though the results are better at the moment when multiple pictures of someone are used, the technology is developing rapidly. Recently, a film by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The film was uploaded by Bill Posters on Instagram as part of an exhibition he calls Spectre. His account also shows deepfake footage of other celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump.
How dangerous is deepfake?
The American government considers deepfake to be so dangerous that it sees it as a threat to national security. Because technological development goes faster than the legislation can be adjusted, it is still unclear what effects deepfake can actually have on our society. It is also unclear what role the government or social media and other online platforms should play in this.
Is deepfake illegal?
It is still unclear when and in what form deepfake is illegal. So far there have been no high-profile lawsuits and the legislation that could say something about it also differs per country. What is certain is that you cannot simply harm someone. In most countries that can be tried as libel. Also, you are not allowed to use someone's image just like that because of portrait rights.
Fake news and deepfake
Worldwide, the internet is beginning to crack on all sides because of the many fake news and unethical use of technology and image manipulation. This is partly due to the omission of certain information. But also by highlighting only one side of the story, news and blog readers are often lied to about what is really going on. Deepfake adds an element to this because people are naturally inclined to believe what they see.
But what if negative propaganda films about presidential candidates who are assumed to be true will soon appear on social media? A candidate who, for example, makes statements that he never said.
In January 2020 Facebook announced that it will forbid deepfake movies due to the danger of misleading information. Only mentioning that a movie is fake is no longer enough for them. Only movies that are obvious satire will be in some cases allowed.
How popular is deepfake?
Deepfake is rapidly becoming popular because the technology is available to anyone with a little knowledge of computers and animation. Until recently, this image manipulation was only available to advanced film studios and the technology was relatively expensive.
Another reason why deepfake is gaining popularity so quickly is because of the impact this type of film has on the viewer. Creatives want you to believe things that surprise you, are funny or confirm certain beliefs about someone.
Imagine seeing Barack Obama in a movie that confirms that he was not born in America at all. Or Donald trump who tells you that he did conspire with Putin to win the elections in 2016. This appeals to a large audience and thanks to social media these kinds of films quickly go viral.
Can deepfake also be used for something positive?
There are only a few examples of deepfake movies that can be considered positive. For example, there is a malaria campaign by RSA Film Amsterdam. In the video, you can hear and see David Beckham speaking 9 languages and the video is eagerly shared on social media. It is not known whether this is due to technology or the celebrity Beckham.
You could say that everything that is fake is by definition by no means positive. But every Hollywood movie is also pure fantasy and only rarely a realistic representation of reality. Maybe creatives, screenwriters and directors need more time to find positive applications for deepfake. They haven't been able to do that yet. That doesn't have to worry us yet, but it does require attention because from now on you can't trust your own eyes and ears anymore.