The mere idea of AI-synthesized media is already making people stop believing that real things are real.
It was late 2018, and the people of Gabon hadn’t seen their president, Ali Bongo, in public for months. Some began to suspect that he was ill, or even dead, and the government was covering it up. To stop the speculation, the government announced that Bongo had suffered a stroke but remained in good health. Soon after, it released a video of him delivering his customary New Year’s address.
Rather than assuaging tensions, however, the video did precisely the opposite. Many people, thinking Bongo looked off in the footage, immediately suspected it was a deepfake—a piece of media forged or altered with the help of AI. The belief fueled their suspicions that the government was hiding something. One week later, the military launched an unsuccessful coup, citing the video as part of the motivation.
Subsequent forensic analysis never found anything altered or manipulated in the video. That didn’t matter. The mere idea of deepfakes had been enough to accelerate the unraveling of an already precarious situation…