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Council Post: Deepfake Phenomenon, Impact and Challenges

The balance between innovation and integrity becomes increasingly critical in the digital age.

Deepfakes represent a formidable intersection of technology and ethics, challenging our notions of truth and trust. Their potential to reshape narratives, whether in politics, media, or personal identity, demands vigilant and informed scrutiny. As we embrace their creative possibilities, we must also fortify our technological advancements and legal and ethical frameworks to safeguard against their darker uses. The balance between innovation and integrity becomes increasingly critical in the digital age.

Introduction 

In a shocking twist, the triumphant Apollo 11 moon mission takes an unexpected turn in a convincing deepfake video. Former U.S. President Richard Nixon somberly declares, “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace!” However, this unsettling scenario is not reality; it is a powerful deepfake crafted by the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality to shed light on the potential threats posed by this emerging artificial intelligence (AI)-based technology.

Deepfakes, a product of advanced AI technologies such as machine learning and deep neural networks, are digitally manipulated synthetic media content. This includes videos, images, and sound clips where individuals are depicted saying or doing things that never occurred. The authenticity of these creations is so striking that distinguishing them from genuine media becomes a daunting challenge for the human eye.

Deepfakes have roots in the academic sphere, where the exploration of using artificial intelligence (AI) for image processing began as early as the 1990s. While the technology simmered in the lab, significant advancements in machine learning and computational power in the mid-2010s created the perfect storm for its wider emergence.

In 2014, a crucial turning point arrived in the evolution of deepfakes with the introduction of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). This breakthrough allowed for the creation of increasingly intricate and realistic manipulations in various forms of media.

Technological advancements and increased accessibility have democratized deepfake creation, leading to a surge in production and dissemination. The transition from specialized tools to user-friendly applications and open-source platforms has significantly broadened the audience capable of creating convincing deepfakes, marking a notable shift in the proliferation of this technology across the internet.

A group of people on a white board

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Pic credit – Homeland Security

Deepfakes and Their Impact from Global to Personal

From 2022 to 2023, the number of deepfakes detected globally across all industries increased tenfold, with notable regional differences. The top five identity fraud types in 2023 include AI-powered fraud, money mulling networks, fake IDs, account takeovers, and forced verification. 

Deepfakes present unique challenges to national security and law enforcement. They can be exploited to incite violence through fake inflammatory statements attributed to public figures or to fabricate evidence, potentially jeopardizing key global initiatives such as climate change agreements. This technology’s capability extends to the legal sector, where it can create synthetic evidence in criminal cases, influencing the outcomes and integrity of legal proceedings.

The commercial sector is equally at risk. Deepfakes can facilitate corporate sabotage by spreading false information about companies. They enable sophisticated social engineering attacks, tricking employees into making costly financial decisions. Similarly, the financial industry is vulnerable, with deepfakes potentially manipulating stock markets and compromising banking security.

The personal impacts of deepfakes are profound and disturbing. They enable new forms of cyberbullying, attacking individuals’ reputations through manufactured content. This is exemplified by using deepfakes to create non-consensual pornographic images, particularly of women, which not only invades privacy but also poses a threat to democracy. Recently, an incident in India involving a deepfake video of a famous actress underscores the urgency of protecting personal dignity and curbing the misuse of this technology. In fact, In October 2020, Sensity AI reported the creation of over 100,000 fake nude images of women, including minors, generated without consent and distributed through Telegram bots. In 2021, AI Dungeon, powered by OpenAI’s GPT-3, inadvertently generated text depicting child sexual exploitation, highlighting the potential misuse of AI in content creation. 

The political landscape is not immune to the influences of deepfakes. They have been utilized to impersonate political figures, manipulate public sentiment, and even incite chaos or conflicts, as seen during Slovakia’s contested parliamentary elections and a doctored TV interview with a US Senator circulated on social media. These examples highlight the technology’s potential to disrupt political processes and sway public opinion on an international scale.

Notable incidents further demonstrate the extensive reach of deepfakes. A few days ago, Sachin Tendulkar’s deepfake video circulated in which he was promoting an online gaming app. In 2023, the crypto sector saw a surge in advanced scams using AI and deepfakes. A notable case involved a fake video of MicroStrategy CEO Michael Saylor offering to “double money instantly,” leading viewers to send Bitcoin to fraudsters. This highlighted Deepfakes’ role in complex financial fraud. Similarly, back in 2019, a video of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaking about controlling the world’s population surfaced, illustrating the potential for public opinion manipulation and widespread confusion. 

These scenarios collectively highlight the diverse and severe implications of this technology, emphasizing the critical need for heightened awareness and the development of effective strategies to counteract these emerging threats.

The Bright Side of Deepfakes

Deepfake technology, often associated with misuse concerns, harbours many positive applications across various sectors. Entertainment can revolutionize filmmaking and gaming, enabling creators to generate realistic characters or bring historical figures to life. In marketing, brands can leverage deepfakes for celebrity endorsements and virtual influencers, creating engaging and tailored advertising campaigns. The potential in education is equally transformative; deepfakes can be used for interactive learning experiences, making historical events or complex scientific concepts more accessible and engaging for students.

Deepfakes promises to break down language barriers in communication, facilitating real-time translation and lip-syncing to enhance global connectivity. Their therapeutic potential in mental health is notable, offering a means to create controlled, virtual environments for safe therapeutic interactions. Deepfakes can also serve a critical role in journalism, protecting the identity of sources or whistleblowers while maintaining the emotional impact of their stories.

Moreover, realistic virtual assistants powered by deepfake technology in customer service can provide personalized and interactive customer experiences, potentially enhancing satisfaction and brand loyalty. Additionally, deepfakes can be used for product demonstrations, allowing potential customers to see products in action in various scenarios, thereby improving engagement and providing more informative experiences.

These applications underscore the transformative potential of deepfake technology, highlighting its capacity to enhance creativity, education, communication, and privacy when used responsibly and ethically. It is a testament to technology’s dual nature – while it poses risks if misused, it also offers many opportunities for positive and innovative applications.

Deepfake technology presents significant challenges to our understanding of truth and ethics. Its ability to blur reality and fiction raises crucial ethical questions about the justifiability of altering someone’s image or voice, even for benign purposes. This concern is magnified by the potential for harm deepfakes pose, such as creating non-consensual explicit content and spreading malicious misinformation.

I was at the GPAI Summit 2023, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted and addressed Deep fake concerns, emphasizing the need for a global AI framework that prioritizes humanity’s welfare. He highlighted the ethical and societal impacts of deepfakes, urging collaborative efforts in formulating responsible AI principles and regulations. He focused on preventing the misuse of deepfakes in disinformation, public opinion manipulation, and compromising electoral integrity.

Recent advancements in deepfake detection are marked by various innovative techniques and global initiatives. These include ID reveal and biometric analysis for detailed facial and speech verification, voice biometrics to discern fake audio, and GAN fingerprinting for identifying the origins of deepfakes. Additionally, efforts are focused on detecting video inconsistencies, such as unnatural lighting or lip-sync errors. Collaborative endeavours are bolstering these technologies, notably by creating extensive deepfake databases to improve algorithm training. However, challenges such as data access limitations and potential biases in these databases need attention. Complementing these technological strategies, global initiatives like the U.S. Department of Defense’s Media Forensics (MediFor) and Semantic Forensics (SemaFor) programs, alongside investments by major tech firms and legislative efforts, are integral. These initiatives range from legal recourse for deepfake victims to forming a National Deepfake and Digital Provenance Task Force. 

However, detection challenges vary worldwide. For instance, DARPA in the U.S. focuses on forensic techniques to counter emerging deep fake algorithms. At the same time, Europol in Europe warns of their use in information warfare.

A notable incident in November 2023 exemplified the use of deepfakes as tools for political and military manipulation. A deepfake video falsely depicting Ukraine’s top general criticizing President Zelenskyy and calling for a coup – released by Russian sources – aimed to destabilize Ukraine during the war. This incident highlighted the importance of effective fact-checking and awareness of deepfake technology in sensitive political contexts.

Approaches to regulation vary internationally. In the U.S., regulation is primarily state-led, with states like California and Texas targeting deep fake pornography. The UK plans to include deepfake regulations in its Online Safety Bill by 2023. Germany’s Basic Law offers implicit protection focusing on privacy rights, and China mandates consent for manipulated content. India is preparing comprehensive deepfake regulations, recognizing the technology’s challenges based on four pillars: detection, prevention, building of grievance, reporting mechanism, and raising awareness.

Legislative hurdles include balancing regulation with freedom of expression and privacy. Some countries strictly target deep fake pornography, while others permit its use in art or political discourse. The effectiveness of these laws depends on the ability to detect deepfakes and enforce compliance, complicated by the anonymity and adaptability of deepfake creators.

As deepfakes continue to evolve, so must legal frameworks. Potential future directions could involve international collaboration for a comprehensive legal framework, expanded regulations for various deepfake applications, and enhanced focus on detection and enforcement. 

Additionally, media literacy and educational strategies are essential in raising public awareness.

Addressing these challenges and advocating for responsible deepfake usage can strengthen our democracies and uphold inclusivity and fairness, which are the pillars of our societies.

Conclusions and Future Directions

Deepfakes are crucial in the digital era, blending technological innovation with ethical challenges. They reflect our society’s complex relationship with truth in the digital world, impacting societal norms, legal systems, and individual rights. Addressing deepfake challenges necessitates a united approach from technology firms, policymakers, and educators, focusing on ethical AI integration, balanced policy-making, and public awareness. The responsibility extends to every individual, emphasizing the need for critical thinking and informed discernment in our information-saturated world. Our collective actions are crucial in shaping a digital environment anchored in integrity and trust.

Amitkumar Shrivastava

Amitkumar Shrivastava

This article is written by Amitkumar Shrivastava, Head, Artificial Intelligence Unit, India at Fujitsu, Fujitsu Fellow & Global Fujitsu Distinguished Engineer. Amit has over a decade of experience and has been dedicated to nurturing India’s AI ecosystem as an industry leader. His commitment to technology awareness and mentorship has earned him accolades, and he actively engages with professionals and students at all levels.

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