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Science & Technology

The Rise of Deepfakes – Lesson

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(Photo by Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images)

AI-generated videos are getting more common, and they could influence world events.

Have you seen a photo or watched a video online that you weren’t totally sure was real? Your doubts will only grow over time as computer experts are getting better at creating “deepfakes.”A fake video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made the news recently. The footage was soon exposed as false, but it raised questions about how these phony images and videos may be used to fool people in the future.

What is a Deepfake?

A “deepfake” is a video, image, or text that has been created by an artificial intelligence. A human can make a phony picture by using Photoshop, for example, but a deepfake goes a step further. It is created not by a human, but by a machine. Since artificial intelligence programs are getting more advanced, the deepfakes they produce are also getting more convincing. Many predict that, eventually, we will reach a point when it is almost impossible to pick out the difference between a real video and an artificial one.

The Zelensky Video

Russia and Ukraine are currently at war, which made the Zelensky video an important one. The one-minute clip portrayed the Ukrainian president telling his citizens to surrender to Russian forces.

The video was posted on social media. It was also put on television and a news website by hackers, though it was quickly removed. Millions of people were reportedly fooled, but others were not convinced by what they saw. Some noted that Zelensky’s accent was slightly different, and his voice and head did not appear natural on closer inspection. “The deepfake is not very well done,” said Sam Gregory, who works with Witness, a human rights group that verifies media during crises. Even though this deepfake is not the best we have seen, Gregory noted that it is good enough to make people hesitate.

zelensky deepfake

Still from President Zelensky deepfake video

It is unclear who crafted the deepfake, but it marks one of the first times that such a video has been used as propaganda in a key world event.

World leaders will likely be a target for deepfakes. Myanmar’s former leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was overthrown by a military government that accused her of corruption. The country’s military used a video depicting a government official held behind bars, claiming he gave Suu Kyi cash and gold. There were accusations that the video was fake, but the truth is still not settled. While the video didn’t cause Suu Kyi’s downfall, it played a part.

Deepfake Experiments

In 2021, videos of a young Tom Cruise fascinated social media. There was just one hiccup – the footage of the movie star was not real. An actor appeared in the videos, but a computer adapted the footage to look like Cruise was the one being filmed. While deepfake videos had appeared over the last few years, the Cruise clips were incredibly realistic, prompting curiosity and shock online.

Still from Tom Cruise deepfake video

Still from Tom Cruise deepfake video

The series was posted to TikTok and gained over 11 million views before being removed. The videos also trended on Twitter. Belgian visual effects engineer Chris Ume took credit for the clips, which are still some of the most convincing ones out there.

Not all celebrities have been happy to find their characteristics copied by AI and used in online videos. Some have tried to have clips depicting their faces or voices taken off the internet, but without success.

Getting Ready for Deepfakes

Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California-Berkely, suspects this is “the tip of the iceberg” for deepfakes. For the more tech-savvy younger generations, it may be easy to notice something off about a deepfake video immediately. But for most people around the world, that is not the case.

Deepfake recordings are worrying a lot of people because they could be used for lots of nefarious purposes. It seems we will one day reach a point where it becomes impossible to tell the differences between a real video and a fake one to the naked eye. What can Americans and people across the globe do to prepare themselves for a time when seeing is no longer believing?