Deepfake is worse than fake news


The present sex video scandal is a preamble for more scary things to come. 

IMAGINE the unthinkable: Someone of substance in the Chinese community saying something deeply racist on video about the death of a Malay policeman in the aftermath of a racial skirmish in Kuala Lumpur.

In times when tension runs high and irrationality prevails, anything can happen.

The unfortunate thing is that the particular individual did not say those words. Such a perfect storm is the product of a doctored video.

In 2015, a black man, Freddie Gray, died while in Baltimore’s police custody. The city’s black community was incensed.

Recently, Danielle Citron, a professor of law at the University of Maryland, provided a hypothetical scenario: Imagine if the chief of police at the time was saying something racist.

“The place would’ve exploded,” she opined.

Luckily, deepfake wasn’t there yet.

According to Wikipedia, deepfake is simply a technique for human image synthesis using Artificial Intelligence (AI). The idea is to combine and superimpose existing images or videos to achieve manipulated new images or videos.

Fake videos can be easily created. It used to be the work of experts but no more. Anyone can create their own doctored images and post them on social media.

The current information ecosystem allows that to happen. Forgeries will in fact be automated. As deepfake becomes more sophisticated it is believed that even forensic technologies used so far to detect digital forgeries will not be able to do much. And considering the gullibility of most media platforms users, it will create discord and tension as never before in societies.

The world of creative content has adopted various technologies to place actors where they weren’t or even to allow them to act alongside deceased celebrities.

Computer generated images (CGI) made possible the visual treats and cinematic splendour never before imagined by filmmakers.

Back in the days of the making of Ben Hur (1959) or Spartacus (1960), directors needed thousands of extras to look like an army of thousands. To depict 70,000-strong spectators at Wembley during Live Aid in 1985 for the movie Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), the filmmakers used a few hundred extras and replicated their images. In the Lord of the Rings, those millions of creatures were all computer generated.

But there is more to just mapping actor Oliver Reed’s face in Gladiator (2000) or using Paul Walker’s brother to finish Fast and Furious 6 (2013). Both died before the films were completed.

Deepfake is about videos of President Donald Trump, former president Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, actress Scarlett Johansson and Mark Zuckerberg (yes, him too!) saying or doing things they don’t do or say.

Johansson has somewhat accepted the fact that she has to pay a heavy price for her fame.

Her images have been used in various pornographic videos, none of which is genuine.

She has resigned to the fact that it is almost impossible to fight it. After all her public image has not been overly affected by the fake porn. But she has reasons to worry about “the threat to women of lesser prominence who could have their reputations damaged because of that”.

Some argued that the social media is already weakening the fabric of democratic societies. Social media platforms are now being weaponised. It has become a weapon of mass destruction.

Deepfake can be worse than fake news. We are entering a new world of forgery sophistication that will make gadgets from Mission Impossible and James Bond movies merely children’s toys. The impact on society is corrosive to say the least. The social and political ramifications can be staggering.

Politics is getting uglier even in Malaysia. It is high noon for purveyors of hate and misinformation.

For now people are debating the authenticity of the videos involving Datuk Seri Azmin Ali. The nation is engulfed in a furious debate on gutter politics, ethics of politicians, even the future of politics.

Most Malaysians want to move on but alas, politicians (on both sides of the political divide) have only themselves to be blamed for their alleged misdemeanours or lack of ethics. The Azmin video clips for what it’s worth is only a preamble for more scary things to come.

Deepfake will further test the integrity and fairness of the political system. With deepfake, politics will never be the same again. Brace yourself for the worse.

The US Congress is taking deepfake seriously. At a House of Intelligence Committee hearing recently, a top Democrat warned of deepfake videos that could have a disastrous effect on American politics, especially with the 2020 presidential election just around the corner.

We should take note of the dangers too.

Johan Jaaffar was a journalist, editor and for some years chairman of a media company, and is passionate about all things literature and the arts. The views expressed here are entirely his own.


   

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