Are Deep Fakes Getting Too Real?

Category: Photography

We all know that photographs are easily faked. Audio recordings, too, are routinely manipulated or even created from whole cloth. Now it seems video is becoming a new frontier in which what you see and hear cannot be trusted. I’m not talking about simply editing video to omit or re-order parts of it. I mean computer-generated video that realistically depicts a recognizable person doing things he or she never really did. Here's what you need to know about deep fakes...

What is a Deep Fake?

Ubiquity often results in a noun becoming a verb. We "xerox" a document, or we "photoshop" a picture. Speaking of the latter, you might think the art of retouching or manipulating photos had something to do with the advent of the Adobe Photoshop software in the late 1980s. The truth is, it's been going on since the mid 1800s. The History of Retouching is a fascinating look at the techniques used over the past 150 years, along with some famous examples. Photographic post-processing has long been used in fashion, beauty, art, and political contexts.

The development of software that makes digital image manipulation a point-and-click affair is what moved the process out of the darkroom and into the hands of the masses. And you don't need to spend hundreds on Adobe Photoshop. See my articles Photo Editing Apps and Online Photo Editors to find links to free image editing tools.

It seems harmless to crop a picture, retouch a photo to eliminate facial blemishes, or "accentuate the positive" in a variety of ways. You might start to feel differently about online tools such as that make it super easy to remove the background of a photo, or Deep Angel which lets you selectively delete objects from a scene. But when this technology moves into the realm of video and audio manipulation, it gets a little darker, and scarier.

Deep Fake Videos

The technique is known as “deep fake,” and of course it’s enabled by artificial intelligence, neural networking, and machine learning. Here’s a harmless example: actor Nicolas Cage inserted into several well-known movie scenes. YouTube has quite a few examples of deep fakes, some good and others easily dismissed.

Creating a deep fake video takes some free, open-source software such as DeepFaceLab, a powerful graphics processing card, and lots of images of the person(s) you wish to fake. Machine learning, after all, requires tons of data from which to learn. Celebrities and politicians provide ideal fodder for deep fakes.

Deep Fakes for Fun, Profit, and Deception

A light-hearted deep fake put comedian Steve Buscemi’s head on the shoulders of “Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence. Obviously, deception was not the author’s intent. But a number of actresses have been victims of deep fakes that superimposed their likenesses on the “leading ladies” of p*rn movies.

Actress Scarlett Johansson is one of the best-known deep fake victims. Dozens of bogus salacious clips of her have been viewed millions of times. (Ironically, Ms. Johansson played the faceless voice of an artificial intelligence in the 2013 sci-fi film, “Her”) She was also victimized in 2011, when she was among several celebrities whose private photos were stolen and posted online; the hacker responsible drew a ten-year prison sentence. Johannson recently said to the Washington Post, “The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause, for the most part.”

Deep fakes have the potential to alter the outcomes of elections. A Seattle TV editor was fired in January, 2019, after a doctored version of President Trump’s nationwide address went out over the air. Several deep fake videos of former President Obama can be found online. It isn’t hard to see how deep fakery could destroy the reputation of a politician or anyone else.

Should We Be Concerned About Deep Fakes?

Deep fakes are still pretty obviously fakes, once viewers take a good look at them. But the technology is improving at the lightning speed of machine learning. Many experts are concerned that we will soon find it difficult to tell real video from fake, even when it depicts people we know.

Deep fake tech potentially takes “fake news” to the next level. It further undermines our ability to tell the difference between truth and lies. In such a world, it becomes more important than ever to get our information from trusted sources and avoid sharing every sketchy meme that sparks our outrage.

An article from TechDirt suggests that we shouldn't "go off the deep end" when considering the future impact of deep fake video. We've long accepted the fact that photos can lie, the author says. So "who is to say," he then wonders, "that societal response to deep fakes will not evolve similarly to the response to digitally edited photographs?"

I have my doubts. How about you? Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Are Deep Fakes Getting Too Real?"

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

As with any new technology, this, which is aided by AI software will only get better. Soon these videos will be put out there to do all kinds of devious things. I fear that this next election cycle will be littered with them and, it will be very difficult to tell the real from the fake. Just what we need is more election fraud.

Posted by:

Joseph Heintz
31 Jan 2019

The theme of faked videos is part of the plot of the new Jack Ryan novel "Oath of Office" by Marc Cameron, a continuation of the series begun by the late Tom Clancy.
A faked video released only a few days before an election could have tremendous effect, and even if it is discredited, once the election is over there's no going back and changing the results.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

I think that photos and videos are no longer acceptable as evidence in court, due to the growing sophistication in being able to alter objects, people etc. I could be wrong but it's easy to understand why their use as evidence can be questioned.

Posted by:

George Sitts
31 Jan 2019

One side effect may be a return to reading, watching and listening to more recognized credible news sources.
People are not stupid. Eventually, traffic and credibility may revert to media like the WSJ, NYTimes, etc, media that is a known quantity.
It may have a reputation to uphold and it may express a leaning left or right, but it's existence and attraction to advertisers and subscribers will hinge on its reputation for honesty, whatever its viewpoint.

Posted by:

Mike Kulick
31 Jan 2019

Fake photos/clips can have a disastrous effect on us, especially in light of the fact that so many people are most willing to accept everything they see as "gospel"!
Case in point...prior to the 2016 election, a photo shopped pic of Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Osama bin Laden was widely circulated. Turns out that 1st, Clinton never met binLaden and 2nd, the owner of the pic admitted that he entered it in a contest to come up with the most ludicrous and was the winner!
Fact is, many, many of my "friends"circulated this to how many thousands of others even though I repeatedly showed them the explanation Think it
could have an effect on some people's thinking?

Posted by:

Michael Arentoft
31 Jan 2019

The use of deep fake tech to avoid the law, break the law or enable terror attacks is my main concern.

Posted by:

Bill C
31 Jan 2019

NYTimes Credibility = Oxymoron

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

This is becoming really scary as the technology required becomes available to more people. Bad people will use this for their own gain.

Posted by:

Paul Rosenberger
31 Jan 2019

Even if I use the religious expression, "Amen" (meaning "so be it") to all the responses above, I infer everything is absolute. Maybe we need a law to penalize the culprits - more opportunity for lawyers.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

Bob, Thanks much for the heads up. This is serious business, and you have notified us that we need to be very cautious about videos in the future.

Posted by:

Burt F
31 Jan 2019

That is really scary stuff. I have seen some of this type of thing used in advertising. That may have been stopped since I have not seen any in a while. It was spooky to see an actor or actress, long dead, appearing in current settings in advertising.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

@Bill C Let me guess, you watch Fox news

Posted by:

31 Jan 2019

The same technology used to create fake videos, AI and machine learning, can theoretically be used to create programs to identify fakes. I foresee the birth of a new industry.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2019

I appreciate your info and wisdom, Bob. I find this very disturbing. Too many idiots out there who believe fake stuff. This cannot be good.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2019

NYTimes a trusted source?

Posted by:

01 Feb 2019

A picture is worth a thousand words??? That old saying has got to go...

Posted by:

01 Feb 2019

The tendency to see this as just an amusement ignores the truth that people are severely embarrassed, thus harmed, most often women and this is only going to get worse.

Yes, it should be illegal. This is targeted harassment and as such infringes on the rights of those who are subjected to it. Again, mostly women, but that it can be used to influence others and so many are so gullible, using this technology in this way is harmful now and it will only get worse. So make it illegal. I'm good with that.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2019

Malicious deep fakes are getting serious (and dangerous at times), but at least they are taken seriously enough that celebrities or the wealthy manage to get some legal justice.
To me, a more pressing problem/ at least as serious, is in the area of malicious hacking (individuals, organizations, government, or business) and ID Theft. I've though about it a lot; even a quality tool can be/will be misused to harm someone.
I propose that these three crimes where serious harm is caused should be treated as capital crimes and punished with the death penalty. Too harsh? Not really. In just the case of serious ID Theft, peoples life savings are destroyed/taken, their credit is ruined, they lose their homes or businesses, and sometimes become so distraught that they take their own lives.
Capital punishment will not cure the problem, but it will certainly reduce it. In fact, it may be enough of a deterrent to reduce incidences enough that legal authorities will have sufficient time and resources to go after the bigger, more skilled, and more dangerous criminals of this type.

Posted by:

Cold City
05 Feb 2019

So the orwellian world may come, but in a different way. Not by oppression and surveillance, but by blurring the boundary between true and false to the point it will be impossible to tell which is which.

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