TechKNOW Tomorrow – Deepfakes: Realistic Imposter Videos

Image by Shutterstock via Kaspersky.

If you’ve ever used Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok to create pictures and videos, you might be familiar with filters that change your appearance. With video filters, you can essentially photoshop images or animations onto your face that play in real time and automatically adjust based on the position of your head. Dog ears, a bunny’s nose, or large expressive eyes are all good examples of this.

Recently, this technology has been taken a step further with the rise of deepfakes. Deepfakes “use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make images of fake events” through neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and computer-generated imagery (CGI). Using AI combined with NLP and CGI, the average person could create anything from a clearly satirical video to a realistic manipulated video that closely impersonates a celebrity.

For example, take a look at the video below that illustrates how realistic this technology is becoming. A visual effects artist breaks down how a Tom Cruise impersonator that mimics the actor’s voice inflections and gestures actually “became the actor” by using thousands of actual images of Cruise’s face.

A Tom Cruise deepfake example.

That said, it’s not just the average user we have to worry about with deepfakes. Companies are already looking towards recreating celebrity concerts and documentaries with realistic deepfakes – both video and audio – that would be otherwise impossible.

For example, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain’s new documentary, Roadrunner, “used AI learning technology to recreate Bourdain’s voice for three individual quotes – each written down, but not spoken by him“. The same is being done with Whitney Houston’s visual appearance in Las Vegas later this year. A concert featuring a live band and choreographed dancing has been planned for October of 2021, though the main attraction will be a hologram version of Whitney Houston on stage “singing” remastered versions of her studio hits.

Likewise, more musicians will be getting the same treatment in the coming years. The Beach Boys recently sold all of their technological property in a deal that “allows the rights to use technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and natural language processing (computer-generated speech)“. This likely means that there are plans to digitally recreate the band for hologram concerts like Houston’s in the near future.

As with any technology, there are both advantages and disadvantages to the potential of deepfakes.

The Pros and Cons of Deepfakes

CON: A lack of trust

One major concern about deepfakes is how difficult it is becoming to spot them. In the past, photoshopped or airbrushed images usually had glaring flaws that the human eye could detect with a little effort. The same can be said of deepfakes when they first arrived on the internet back in 2017. Today, the technology is a lot more refined… and a lot more dangerous as a result.

Imagine if the prime minister gives a press conference inciting violence. Or maybe your favourite celebrity makes a racist comment. Even if they apologize for it, how do you know whether the apology is genuine or a deepfake? Was the whole thing a hoax or was it real? These types of situations could lead to confusion and distrust among the average person, and defamation for politicians/celebrities. Fake news could become even harder to detect.

CON: A rise in scams

Financial scams could become more elaborate as deepfakes continue to develop. A romance scam in which the person you’re dating disguises both their voice and video to seem more trustworthy, for instance. A phone call from a “friend” asking for an e-transfer could result in lost money. In fact, back in 2019, “scammers using the exact same trick managed to defraud a company out of $240,000″!

Should we be concerned about the rise of this new technology? Most definitely, but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

Image by Ctrl Shift Face via YouTube.

PRO: A new type of art

As we saw with Whitney Houston’s hologram concert, deepfakes could give us a chance to experience a fun concert or movie with musicians and actors who have passed away. We could see more exposure to art from decades long past, such as hearing a new song by Frank Sinatra that he never actually sang or a Christmas rap tune featuring 2PAC and the Notorious B.I.G. (NOTE: this is a clean track without curse words or disturbing subject matter). The possibilities of art are already expanding!

PRO: Advances in research and training

You may be surprised to learn that the medical field could benefit greatly from deepfakes. For example, by generating “fake” brain scans based on the data received from actual patients, these scans can be “used to train algorithms to spot tumours in real images“. Deepfakes can also be used in medicine to “restore people’s voices when they lose them to disease“.

Furthermore, deepfakes could create AI avatars that aid in training videos or promotional material, which is vital during a time in which social distancing is the norm.

PRO: A method to protect identities

You may have heard of the LGBTQ+ purges in Chechnya which involve the detainment, torture, and murder of members of the community just for identifying as a sexual orientation outside of the norm. In the documentary, Welcome to Chechnya, a film that captures the horror stories of these purges, deepfakes are used “to superimpose supple, completely fabricated faces over 23 hunted individuals“, protecting their identities from further prosecution. This technology can continue to protect the identity of an individual without sacrificing the visual appeal or immersion of a film.

. . .

We hope this information on deepfakes has been helpful! Stay tuned for the next article in which we give you tips on how to spot deepfakes yourself and what governments are doing to combat this new type of manipulated content.

At techKNOWtutors, we realize that adapting to technology isn’t easy. Although most services have closed, we remain open – digitally – to answer your internet-related questions. If you need help with improving your digital literacy, send us an email at techknowtutors@cscnl.ca or join our Facebook group and send us a message.

Better yet, sign up for one of our online classes that we offer for FREE every week! Until then, stay in the techKNOW.

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