Deepfakes threaten what make us human

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Nina Schick

March 23, 2023


A dangerous new risk to civil liberties is brewing online. And it starts with pornography. At the end of 2017, users of the Reddit website were abuzz. Someone calling themselves “deepfakes” was showing them how to use free artificial intelligence (AI) tools to create fake porn videos of celebrities.

One of his early creations “starred” Gal Gadot, star of the movie Wonder Woman. While fake porn has been around for at least as long as Photoshop, these AI-powered creations were in a different league.

Sophisticated fakes, known as “deepfakes” after their creator’s pseudonym,  were made possible by advances in  AI. So-called “deep learning” allows AI to learn what someone’s face looks like at any angle or with any expression, or what someone’s voice sounds like saying any word.

Until recently, creating this type of fake media would have been  the exclusive domain of a Hollywood studio, or someone with access to a lot of  special effects artists. Yet, by 2017, it was happening on Reddit: within weeks, the site was awash with deepfake porn.

While Reddit quickly shut down the deepfake community, the cat was out of the bag. Now,  an entire deepfake porn ecosystem is flourishing. Websites dedicated to deepfake porn are easily accessible (and free) with just a few clicks on Google. They feature dozens of videos of every celebrity and public figure imaginable. Every male fantasy is catered for.

It is easy to create a deepfake porn film. Apart from the free tutorial and apps which now proliferate, there are bespoke deepfake creation services that can be bought for a few hundred pounds in the online marketplace. In November 2019, there were 15,000 deepfake porn videos online; less than a year later that figure is closer to 40,000.

Already deepfake porn is being used as a tool of intimidation. Take the case of Rana Ayyub. An Indian investigative journalist, she was fiercely critical of the ruling BJP party in India. She was subjected to an online campaign of terror and harassment that culminated in  a deepfake porn video of her emerging in 2018. It went viral, and was released along with her private number.

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