The new era of fake news is “Deep Fakes” and it means new challenges when it comes to protecting elections.
If a Deep Fake video gets played on the news or become popular on the Internet it could “influence the outcome of your race,” said Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a press conference on Deep Fakes held at the Heritage Foundation on July 19.
Deep Fakes is a term given to the technological ability to superimpose images and or speech onto any figure available and to publish it as if it’s original. Buzzfeed and comedian Jordan Peele gave an example of how this technology can be used to deceive people.
“Now you can reach millions of people within seconds, and if it isn’t true, by the time you knock it down, it could take weeks, months, or maybe never,” said Rubio.
This technology has been in use for decades as Computer Graphics Images (CGI) in movies but is now available on open source and incredibly cheap software to the everyday computer user.
A Deep Fake video recently affected elections in Moldova. There, a video of a news segment from Al Jazeera was posted on the network’s Facebook page with Romanian subtitles.
It was claimed to be about a mayoral candidate’s proposal to lease an island to the United Arab Emirates. It was a fabrication, but the video went viral, according to a report from the Financial Times.
“We react to things after they happen. Something bad happens and we react to it. This is an effort to get ahead of something, to sort of see what the capabilities are, see what the trends in society are, put them together and anticipate how bad actors could utilize technology and technologically advance in the years to come,” said Rubio.
The ability to manipulate images to stunning realism has devastating implications for politics as well as for the professional and personal life of every citizen.
“We’re all screwed,” Bobby Chesney, the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Texas told The Globe Post half-jokingly. “You might see some not very sophisticated attempts at this sort of thing as the idea begins to percolate, but I wouldn’t look for it in 2018. I would look for it in 2020.”
The availability of this technology is staggering. Deep Video Portraits, a company able to make and manipulate facial expressions and head poses of figures ranging from a woman on the street to President Obama, has released their technology as a means of informing the public of its capabilities and to hopefully deter those who might use it to trick consumers.
“One of the ironies of the 21st century is that technology has made it cheaper than ever to be bad,” Rubio said.
Open-sourcing Deep Fakes technology could possibly backfire and create just the opposite result as hackers use it to manipulate images and audio of politicians onto anything they want. “Whenever you are warning of potentially serious harm, you run the risk of what you’re doing is inception and you’re giving bad actors ideas that they might not have otherwise had,” Chesney said.
In America, most phone and computer users stare at a screen an average of 11 hours per day, greatly increasing the window of time in which they might see a false image compared to just a few years ago. While Deep Fakes are just primitive enough to be detected today, that’s likely to change.
With its ability to fool most consumers, Deep Fakes could seriously hurt elections, politics, and democracy overall. Deep Fakes are just one of many ways AI is changing today’s technological and economic landscape.
“There is a mix between hopes in the new technology and fears,” Robin Mishra, the Head of Science and Technology at German Embassy in Washington said at an event on the international race for AI. As many countries are creating strategies to foster the growth of the AI, Mishra urged the international communities to focus on a “human-centric” approach.
“The way we live on this planet is going to change,” Arunish Chawla, the Economic Minister at the Embassy of India in Washington said at the same event. He compared the large changes in the world from innovation, such as the industrial revolution or the internet, as waves of disruption.
“AI is the next wave,” Chawla declared. “It isn’t just a wave, it’s a hurricane.”
Daniel Payne contributed to this report from Washington D.C.