Muddying the Digital Waters: Have Deepfakes Gone Off The Deep End?

Earlier this month, enemy hackers posted a deepfake of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asking his citizens to lay down their weapons, once again questioning the harmful implications of advances in AI technology.

This incident brought to light the long-term harm that could be caused when tech-savvy hackers intervene in elections, indeed a topic that will be discussed heavily as we enter midterms.

Deepfakes – a combination of “deep learning” and “fake” – are forged and manipulated videos that can be made with relatively basic knowledge of technology.

“The new threat is that we have democratized access to a very powerful technology that allows the average person… to create what used to require a Hollywood studio,” said digital forensics expert Hany Farid.

These synthetic videos are used for mischief more often than not: to produce non-consensual intimate imagery (“revenge porn”), to commit fraud, and to spread disinformation.

Are there positives to synthetic media?

Fans of the Star Wars saga were exposed to deepfakes in 2016’s Rogue One, with “cameos” by Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher.

Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarkin from the original 1977 film, even though the actor passed away in 1994.

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