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A world of deepfakes

Deepfakes have been very much in the news for the past two years. It’s time to think about what deepfakes are and what they mean. Where do they come from? Why now? Is this just a natural evolution in the history of technology?

Deepfakes are media that are created by AI. They appear to be genuine (e.g., a video of President Obama) but have limited connection to reality. An audio track can be created that sounds indistinguishable from the victim, saying something the victim would never have said. Video can be generated from existing videos or photos that match the soundtrack, so that the mouth moves correctly and the facial expressions look natural. It’s not surprising that humans have trouble detecting fakes; with the current technology, even shallow fakes are too good.

Deepfakes are the logical extension of older AI research. It wasn’t long ago that we read about AI generating new paintings in the style of Rembrandt and other Dutch Masters, stylizing pictures in the style of Van Gogh and Picasso, and so on. At the time, there was more concern about the future of human creativity: would we still need artists? Would we live in a world full of fake Van Goghs? We shrugged those “fakes” off because we were asking the wrong questions. We don’t need more Van Goghs any more than we need more Elvises on velvet. We may end up with a few fake Rembrandts where they shouldn’t be, but the art world will survive…

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