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Could Deepfake Video Decide the Next Election?

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Could Deepfake Video Decide the Next Election?

As communication technology advances, unscrupulous people always find ways to exploit it to deceive others. So it is with artificial intelligence and recent advances in digital video editing software. We are entering the era of the deepfake video.

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Deepfake Video

If you want to understand what a deepfake is, consider Forrest Gump. If you have seen this movie, you may remember a pivotal scene in which the title character met President Kennedy. It actually was Kennedy, not an actor portraying him, who seemed to be talking to Tom Hanks, who played Gump- even though Kennedy was murdered 30 years before the scene was filmed.

Studio technicians created this effect by combining archival news footage of Kennedy with their own black and white footage of Hanks. Then they digitally manipulated Kennedy’s mouth to match his movie dialog.

Deepfake video has been instrumental in the production of other movies. For example, after Paul Walker, an actor in Furious 7, died before filming of all his scenes was complete, the studio filmed his brother for the remaining scenes, then digitally inserted a composite of Walker’s face. Similar effects were critical for production of Gladiator and Rogue One: a Star Wars Story.

Deepfake Porn

Similar deepfake technologies have also been used for producing porn. Some trolls have produced and uploaded video with the faces of famous women digitally grafted onto the bodies of porn performers. Scarlett Johansson, one of the most famous actresses in the world, has frequently and unwittingly been the ‘star’ in deepfake porn.

Obviously, the technology can easily be turned to sinister purpose, such as blackmail and revenge.

Political Use of Deepfake Video

The application of digital video alteration that most concerns experts is political deception. For example, a campaign or a political web site could release convincing fake video of an opposing candidate issuing offensive or incriminating statements. This would not be difficult. CNN Business recently released a demonstration video featuring former President Obama appearing to say, “President Trump is a total and complete dips___. Now, you see I would never say these things- at least not in a public address. But someone would- someone like Jordan Peele.”

Peele is the actor who voiced the video. Digital artists then manipulated Obama’s mouth movements to match Peele’s.

What Can You Believe?

Expert observers believe that such digital deception is unlikely to influence our elections much- at least not directly. For one thing, the ability to detect manipulation of video- and audio- is advancing rapidly.

What most concerns the experts is that after we’ve been alerted to a few of the fakes, we may cease to believe ANYTHING we see or hear. Excessive cynicism about all sources of information could sow division and chaos. Can a complex civil society thrive if we can’t trust any mass communication, or anyone we’re not facing in person?


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