‘Deepfakes’ will keep us on our toes


I’ve not had cable television for a long time, or I should say, I have not regularly watched cable television for a long time. It was little more than a year ago that I signed up for new Internet service, and the local cable company dangled the delicious looking “carrot on a stick” of cheap DVR service, tons of channels, and a low payment for some cable TV.

I bit the carrot and got the cable, phone and Internet package, but that initial bite of the carrot was all I ate when it came to using cable television. After not having it for many years, and getting used to either reading, watching stuff on YouTube, reading some more, or using stuff like Netflix or Amazon Prime, there was just no need for cable television anymore.

YouTube (if you’ve read past columns you know I love the variety and depth of many different YouTube offerings) was a service that I could not live without, however. Not only where there entertainment offerings on there, but also a chance to watch world news, or see reports on news that is taking place. It offered up everything that I would even need from cable at any given time. 

In any given day the offerings range from the useful, like how to make concrete steps for your home, to the absurd like comedian Bill Hader doing impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Pachino on one of the nightly talk shows.

Someone took the time in this comedy impression to morph Bill Hader’s face into that of Arnie and Al when he did the respective voices, which added to the humor of the video. There sat Bill Hader at the desk with Conan O’Brien talking in his normal voice, but as soon as he went into the Arnie voice, the face changed to that of the action movie/former California governor’s face. Honestly, Bill Hader does the impersonation so well that one cannot tell that one not knowing its clever video editing could believe it’s actually Arnie.

The term for this type of video editing is called “Deepfake,” and although it’s funny in some forms, it is something that media viewers are going to have to be on the lookout for the rest of our lives, as people try to convince us that one thing is happening or someone is saying something, and they are really not saying it.

The software used to create Deepfakes was created in 2017 and uses artificial intelligence to graft faces onto images that they were not originally on. You could take video of your neighbor’s dog and graft it onto your grandmother blowing out birthday candles if you wanted. The software has since only been used for nefarious purposes thus far, including activities I would not want to delve into in a family-friendly newspaper column. Suffice it to say there is some sick stuff being done with the technology, its not just fun and games and celebrity impersonations anymore.

According to research I have found, Deepfakes have been used to misrepresent different political figures in the United States and around the world. An example is the face of Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s face being replaced in a speech with that of Adolph Hitler’s.

Recently a doctored video of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was created, using Deepfake technology to make it appear that she was drunk. Many different sites, once this came to light that she was not drunk and it was decided to take the video down, but I fear that many individuals have seen it well before it was taken down and do not realize it was fake to begin with.

Editing photos or voices is nothing new, however. This has been taking place for decades in various forms, generated by various techniques and with varied amounts of sophistication. One can look back at postcards created during the great depression of farmers killing giant grasshoppers and other outdoor pests. 

In the political realm one can look at USSR leader Joseph Stalin, who would regularly have state photos edited to have those who angered him and were eliminated removed from the pictures. Some of these photo edits, however, are evident to the naked eye and are clearly fakes, not so much with Deepfakes.

But with the rise of computing power, Deepfakes are going to look more and more real, and will not just be the subject on sites like YouTube and Facebook. I predict that Deepfakes will bleed over into regular cable television news, after all the aforementioned video of Pelosi was reposted by many, including President Donald Trump, and it made the nightly news. It’s not just wacky videos found on the Internet anymore, it’s stuff that’s making it mainstream

So wherever you’re getting your news, regardless of your political affiliation, take time to make sure what you’re seeing isn’t fake or someone isn’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes about something in the news, even if you’re going with the “old reliable” cable television.