In recent days, companies like Twitter, Reddit, PornHub, and Discord have taken a stand against deepfakes, videos generated with machine learning to graft the face of one person onto the body of another person. The name and practice were popularized in recent months in subreddit communities where users put the heads of actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Gal Gadot on the bodies of porn stars having sex.
It’s the first time since white supremacists got the boot following violence in Charlottesville that tech platforms acted in unison to eliminate something horrendous that many agree shouldn’t exist on the internet — but that’s not the end of it. The story with deepfakes appears to be that we’re just getting started.
Just as we all got used to recognizing doctored photoshopped images, people will get smarter about spotting deepfakes. Some are already easy to spot with the naked eye, while others can be really convincing.
But what happens when deepfakes stop being the fare of redditors with free time and a fixation on Game of Thrones actresses and become a weapon for state actors interested in destabilization of governments like the United States?
Are we ready for that? Cause it kind of looks like fake news in 2016 was the opening salvo in a continuous, deep mind fuck, and that attempts to influence midterm elections have already begun.
Are tech platforms ready? As the #releasethememo drama surrounding Congress and the Mueller investigation demonstrated in recent weeks, platforms like Twitter still haven’t stopped Russian bots from meddling in matters of U.S. politics, and that doesn’t inspire confidence.
In other computer vision-related news this week fit for a dystopian novel, in China, where a national facial recognition database is being created, police at railway stations now wear glasses to scan the faces of travelers and search for criminals.
How long do we have until these two trends merge, and deepfakes successfully trick facial recognition software to put the wrong person in the crosshairs of law enforcement officials?
It’s one thing when you live in a place where there’s rule of law and some (not much) legal recourse, and another entirely when deepfakes are used in places where dissidents and political opposition leaders are routinely rounded up.
In an age of fake news and filter bubbles, these instances shred our collective sense of reality and could continue to create distance between agreed-upon facts.
I don’t trust governments or law enforcement agencies to use these tools without limit, and though there is some good deepfake detection software available today, we don’t know yet if tech platforms can keep everyone safe.
What we will witness in the year ahead may tell the world a lot about whether tech companies with platforms used by millions of people can actually control the ways they’re used.
The answer may make clear if companies can be trusted to police their own platforms, and if they either refuse to make the necessary investments or cannot protect against fake crimes, pornography, or attacks on political dissidents, because they must be held to account in some way.
Thanks for reading,
AI Staff Writer
P.S. Deepfakes can be frightening, but it’s not all dystopian. Please enjoy this video compilation of deepfakes used to put Nicolas Cage in movies he never starred in, like Terminator 2 and Forrest Gump.
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