People with an interest in social media cannot fail to have noticed the video of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg which went viral this month. In it, the online entrepreneur is seen talking to a camera, with a news ticker along the bottom of the screen saying ‘whoever controls the data controls the future’. The likeness is convincing; the figure moves naturally, and appears to blink, speak, and breathe in a completely human manner, but it is in fact entirely created by algorithms.
This spoof was created in 2017 by two artists – Bill Posters and Daniel Howe – as part of an art installation called Spectre. Intended to demonstrate to the public how big data companies affect human behaviour online and offline, the deep fake has certainly raised some interesting ethical questions.
Already a digital programme, which had been used to insert the faces of famous actors into adult films, deep fakes have started rearing their heads in contemporary politics. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives in the USA, and Barack Obama have both been subject to deep fakes.
People who are ‘deep-faked’ can of course deny what these effigies are saying, but the problem can become more acute in reverse; when someone in public life does or says something outrageous and claims it was a deep fake to avoid repercussions.
Spotting a deep fake is hard. Some have suggested that people in public life should create online ‘alibis’ to show what they were doing when they were allegedly being deep-faked. Others have suggested a ‘watermarking’ system for official videos, which disappear if the video is doctored. It seems clear that more education about fake news and deep fakes is paramount.
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