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Deepfakes: What’s Real and
What’s Not?

Have you heard of deepfakes? Even if you haven’t, chances are that you’ve encountered at least one. Check out this list of well-known examples, and see how many you recognise. 

Deepfake creators can use cutting-edge technology to create funny, satirical and/or subversive video content that entertains millions – and occasionally, changes the global conversation. The best-known videos feature celebrities and other public figures, such as politicians, acting in invented scenarios that appear completely real – sometimes scarily so.

But even the funniest deepfake video raises serious questions. How are these new technological developments influencing our vision of the world? Can it really be ethical to use real people’s voices and faces to create fake content? Do we actually need this technology, or do we use it simply because we can?

How deepfakes work

The key to creating deepfakes is AI: artificial intelligence. If you’ve watched a Hollywood blockbuster recently, you’ve probably seen AI at work. Using existing text, videos and photographs, neural networks can be trained to reproduce completely new material that closely resembles the original. This is a long, complex process and can throw up some strange results. But the more neural networks learn, the better they get and the more realistic the outcome. This is how your favourite actors can be aged, de-aged, or even brought back from the dead to star in a big-budget film.

Neural networks have been around since the 1970s, but they’ve become far more accessible to the general public in the last few years. Now, anyone with the right skills and enough patience can create a convincing deepfake.

Ethical problems

In ethical terms, this is brand new territory. You might feel that actors, politicians and other public figures are fair game for creative satire. But the famous deepfakes that circulate on social media are only the tip of the iceberg. A recent study showed that 96% of all deepfake material is adult content, engineered to feature women who did not consent to the use of their image. Whether they target celebrities or private individuals, deepfakes are a powerful way to invade someone’s boundaries and smear their reputation.

Another repercussion of deepfake technology is the further spread of fake news. Conspiracy theories, skewed reporting and falsified evidence are all huge issues when it comes to deciding which sources are trustworthy. These convincing videos only compound the problem.

Spotting a deepfake

Because the technology is constantly evolving, it’s challenging to identify a deepfake – certainly right away. The moment a particular flaw or giveaway becomes common knowledge, developers move to address it. That’s why CGI celebrities now blink just like real people. Even the most sophisticated detection algorithm can’t quite keep up.

AI and other emerging technologies have made the online landscape more complex and confusing than ever before. But you don’t have to figure it all out alone. A reliable IT support partner can keep you and your team up to date with the latest developments, helping you to stay out of those fake news traps. If you’d like to explore this topic further, just contact us for a chat.