A humorous YouTube video has been circulating recently that digitally imposes the face of former boxer Mike Tyson on the entire cast of the 1990s sitcom Family Matters. The end result was hilarious, though a little unsettling, as Tyson sassily delivered a restaurant menu with the body of actress Telma Hopkins. It's not a perfect match-up in every scene, but there were a few moments that looked convincing enough.
For a minute's worth of comedy, the video served its purpose, though the realization was clear that technology has gotten to the point where we can't trust our eyes anymore.
That observation, however, sounded too similar to a quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
Altering images to tell an alternate story isn't a new concept. The 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man is set in a fictional 2019, but shows the damage a faked video can create to disrupt society.
In our real 2019 however, the online videos switch faces and voices of people for other subjects are known as Deepfake videos, AI-generated videos that are trained on hours of existing footage to make people look like they are saying or doing things that they never did.
While the film industry has been using computer generated special effects for years, the origins of Deepfake alterations were used for more underground entertainment purposes, gaining mainstream momentum as recently as 2017.
The alterations have evolved to placing actors faces like Nicolas Cage into multiple movie roles both male and female, or more recently actor Jim Carrey's face over Jack Nicholson's in scenes from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
Deepfake videos are a non-partisan issue. These manipulations can affect anyone regardless of personal affiliation or belief. While presently still used by internet jokesters for fun, these videos are starting to alter real world events, especially as the next political season begins.
While the technology is still not sophisticated enough to convincingly alter large scale events such as the moon landing, the Nixon tapes, or 9/11, these videos have evolved enough to warrant attention from the Pentagon, as their potential use has benefits for misinformation campaigns or conspiracy theorists, causing harm to entertainment celebrities, corporate spokespeople and political leaders.
It's only been since September of 2018 that United States lawmakers have asked the Director of National Intelligence to report the threat of Deepfake videos to Congress. As of June 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives held their first hearing on Deepfakes.
As a response to these videos, the Pentagon is currently working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to get ahead of these Deepfake alterations. Part of the research is learning how these videos are actually made. Presently, researchers from the University of Colorado program are working with the DARPA program in trying to make their own convincing Deepfake videos to help other researchers develop technology needed to detect which online videos are real or fake.
One of the biggest current tells of most Deepfake videos are the general lack of blinking eyes as the imagery is based off of still photos.
As we move forward as a society, technology will only continue to improve and become more accessible to a wider audience. If a video seems too good to be true, or the person featured in the video seems to behave out of character, it's worth checking other news sources for factual verification before trusting everything on the internet and inadvertently sharing the disinformation these videos cause.