Some YouTuber made a Deep Fake Terminator 2 video superimposing Sylvester Stallone’s head onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body. It quickly went viral, especially after Stallone himself re-tweeted it:
Amusing, sure, but also a little disturbing:
The Skynet of the Terminator franchise is a defense program which pulled an Ultron by going straight to “Kill all Humans” the moment it attained sentience. Ever since then, Skynet has become the pop culture shorthand for “scary future of AI” (well, that and The Matrix). However, AI and advancing technologies need not be as militaristic as James Cameron’s doomsday scenario to take us down.
With all due respect to Trump v North Korea, worrying about who has access to nuclear codes, as Cameron did with his Terminator armageddon in which Skynet instantly kick-starts a nuclear war, is the type of thing someone living through the Cold War would gravitate toward. Today, however, technology, the internet and what these things are doing to us a people are the new bogeymen. Just ask Charlie Brooker. He’s made his entire career off of mining those concerns for drama in Black Mirror.
And a lot of very smart people are very concerned about the future of Deep Fake videos:
Initially introduced as a free software program and used by randos around the world to splice celebrities faces onto the bodies of porn stars to form some kind of almost CGI sex tape, Deep Fake vids are so named because they are often good enough to fool even forensics experts. They work best if the people being spliced have enough pre-existing video for the software to analyze while trying to recreate them. That’s why porn stars and movie stars were used as the first test cases. Eventually, it moved on to jokey stuff, like putting Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body.
Then Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed did this:
That got a lot of people’s attention, leading to run of deep dives, op-eds, and companion videos, like this from PBS’ Nova:
Fundamentally, though, the Deep Fake technology isn’t inherently evil. Right now, it’s just a thing we use to waste time on the internet. It’s clickbait. It’s “come look at this funny video” fodder.
Like this T2 video, for example. Youtuber ctrl_shift_face’s work on this is pretty good, but it also shows the current limitations of the technology. At no point during the video do I find the blending of Stallone and Schwarzenegger to be 100% convincing. Instead, the effect of watching it is similar to that of a cut scene from a video game – there’s an approximation of something lifelike in the face but it is off by just enough to let you know it isn’t real:
But over time these videos are going to look a lot more convincing. When they do, the propaganda machines around the world already seeking to sow discord through fake news will have another potential tool in their arsenal.
We’re prepared for that, though. After 2016, we’ve all learned our lesson about fake news. Our media literacy is improving. We actually check sources now. We certainly don’t just mindlessly re-report unverified stories or ignorantly spread misinformation through social media.
Just kidding! We haven’t learned a thing.
Of course, every new technology since the Atomic Age and even further back has been seen as the source of our demise, yet here we still stand, un-obliterated. We always manage to adjust, but this feels like we’ve entered into slightly more sophisticated territory. This latest advancement isn’t a threat to replace some part of society, as with robots coming to take our jobs, but instead it promises to blur the line between fact and fiction and embolden those who would weaponize our ignorance against us. So, who knows what will happen.
Before this latest technology comes to tear society apart through fake news and propaganda, we can still enjoy the inevitable next wave of Deep Fake videos recasting old movies. I’m sure a Dougray Scott or Russell Crowe as Wolverine video can’t be too far behind. Skynet would surely approve.