Preface: This article is indeed actually written by me, Tim Grega. For real, this is honestly, 100 percent me, no lie…

I was about 15 years old when I was first introduced to photo manipulation software. I remember taking a photograph of a famous AC Milan soccer player and changing the picture so it appeared that he was wearing an Inter Milan jersey instead. Although time consuming and fairly rudimentary, my work appeared authentic. Flash forward a few decades to the ubiquity of smart phones and “photo enhancing” apps, when most of the pictures or videos sent across social media and text messaging are pushed through one or more of an assortment of filters, and now every female has that slim nose, flawless skin, exquisite brows, and perfect lighting. That or they have now become a dog wearing glasses and lapping her tongue at every gesture. 

Move just a little further, to the time we occupy now, and we have the “Deep Fake”. Complete audio and video files that bring reality into question. In this age of “fake news”, who and what are we to believe? Recently ABC News reported on a “slaughter in Syria”, a supposed Turkish military attack on Kurds in the border town of Tal Abyad. The problem with this was that the “footage obtained by ABC News” was actually of a gun range in Kentucky from years prior. Now, although this wasn’t a software enhanced/altered video or audio, it nonetheless displays the desire for distribution of disinformation. That and the apparent lingering belief that our society is ignorant enough to believe whatever the media machine pushes. 

Screenshot of an ABC News program purportedly from Syria. This image is actually from a gun range in Kentucky, USA.

Stop for a moment and think about the potential effects all of these examples may have on you, our society, or even our foreign relations. Although its humorous, watch the video below and imagine the implications that a similar, more earnest video might trigger.

BuzzFeedVideo and Jordan Peele create “deepfake” of former President Obama.

“Deep Fake” video and audio altering software has made rapid advances in the past few years and is only increasing in accuracy and capability with the advent of massive machine learning setups. Essentially pitting two models against each other, one pushing ever-developing false images and the other rapidly searching said images for cues of forgery, these programs can produce a video, complete with associated audio track, that by all accounts is authentic. The catch is that it is a complete fake. Societies across the world are moving out of the age of the grainy, skip-framed Bigfoot footage and are stepping into the arena of computer altered/created video of everyone from the hottest contemporary celebrity to international heads of state.  With technology increasing daily, how do we prevent what some call the “nuclear bomb” of our time from taking over? Especially considering that programs such as FakeApp and DeepFaceLab are available and used publicly, what does that mean for the capability of our own government? Certainly, the lettered agencies have advanced software and methodologies that rival what is available on the open market.

Since digital media has increasingly taken over as the preferred medium of choice for people to receive their news, how do we know what we are receiving is indeed authentic and from the expected source? Better yet, what can we do if it isn’t? Is the fake considered art or expression even if it is a video purporting to be a world leader in a somehow compromising situation? What if it depicts a world leader giving commands to attack another country, followed up by footage akin to ABC’s? 

People thought the world was ending when Orson Welles first delivered his famed “War of the Worlds” radio program. How do we manage the potential fervor created by its modern contemporaries? 

References:

Foley, J. 2019. 9 Deepfake examples that terrified and amused the internet. Creative Bloq. Retrieved from: https://www.creativebloq.com/features/deepfake-examples

Porup, J. 2019. How and why deep fake videos work – and what is at risk. CSO Online. Retrieved from: https://www.csoonline.com/article/3293002/deepfake-videos-how-and-why-they-work.html

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