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Book synopsis

AI was once the exclusive domain of science fiction. Now it is a practical reality. Explore the synthetic future with Nina Schick.

deepfakes book cover

"Short. Sharp. Hits you like a punch in the stomach."

Nick Cohen, The Observer
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"It's compelling. It's scary. If you are freaked about this kind of stuff, this is the book for you."

Andrew Yang, Entrepreneur, Politician, Philanthropist

"With this powerful book, Nina Schick has done us all a great public service. It's your civic duty to read it."

Jamie Susskind, Author, Future Politics

"From porn to geopolitics, our reality is being undermined by a new generation of deepfakes and disinformation. This is the essential pocket guide to this new world, and a rallying call to arms."

Peter Pomerantsev, Author, This is Not Propaganda

"In an era when political campaigns can be based on entirely false versions of reality, Schick's book helps explain how this has happened and warns that it will get worse."

Anne Applebaum, Author, The Twilight of Democracy.

"Urgent, thoughtful and thoroughly-researched.A must-read for anyone who cares about how the world is represented and an important addition to the discussion around the polarisation of contemporary politics."

Greg Williams, Editor-in-Chief, WIREDUK

"Nina Schick is alerting us to a danger from the future that is already here. Deepfakes mean that we can't trust our eyes and ears. Listen to this vital warning."

Adam Boulton, Editor-at-Large, Sky News

"This is essential reading for anyone interested about the shocking way information is and will be manipulated. Essential not just for policy-makers, but also CEOs and corporations having to navigate this new landscape."

Lord Ed Vaizey, Peer, House of Lords

"Fascinating and scary. Nina Schick's portrayal of the world of disinformation is not a vision of the dystopian future, it is a dystopian present. Anyone who cares about facts should read it."

Victoria Derbyshire, Broadcaster, BBC

"Deepfakes is a critical book that couldn’t have come along at a better time. If you want to understand the coming infodemic and have time to read one book, read Schick’s Deepfakes. If you have time to read two books, read it twice."

Matthew F. Ferraro, Visiting Fellow, National Security Institute

"The book sketches out an alarming future where convincing fakes will make it even harder for citizens to disentangle truth from lies, and I would advise policy-makers to read it."

Jim Pickard, Chief Political Correspondent, The Financial Times

"Gripping, alarming and morally vital. Nina Schick guides us with diligence, breezy storytelling, expert insight, and a tried-and-tested commitment to accuracy."

Ian Dunt, Author, How to be a Liberal

"Schick is a world-leading authority on the ways that warped information flows have broken our shared sense of reality. Deepfakes is an urgent, illuminating, fast-paced read, making clear that if we break reality, we break democracy too."

Brian Klaas, Author, How to Rig an Election

Fucked-up dystopia:

There is a viral video of President Obama on YouTube, with almost 7.5 million views. The title lures you in: “You Won’t Believe What Obama Says In This Video!”

Obama looks straight into the camera. Seated in a deep mahogany chair, he appears to be in the Oval Office. He’s aged – you can tell from his salt-and-pepper hair. But he looks confident, relaxed. Over his right shoulder, you catch a glimpse of the American flag. As usual, Obama is dressed impeccably: a crisp white shirt and a blue tie. On his left lapel, he’s sporting a US-flag pin.

You click play. “We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything in any point in time,” Obama begins. “Even if they would never say those things. So, for instance…” he continues, gesturing with his hands, “they could have me say things like President Trump is a total and complete dipshit!” His eyes seem to glimmer with a hint of a smile. Obama continues: “Now, you see, I would never say these things, at least not in a public address.”

Obama never did say those things. The video was fake – a so-called ‘deepfake’, created with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Welcome to the future, one in which AI is getting powerful enough to make people say things they never said and do things they never did. Anyone can be targeted, and everyone can deny everything. In our broken information ecosystem – characterized by misinformation and disinformation – AI and deepfakes are the latest evolving threat.

What is a deepfake?

A deepfake is a type of ‘synthetic media,’ meaning media (including images, audio and video) that is either manipulated or wholly generated by AI.

Technology has consistently made the manipulation of media easier and more accessible (ie through tools like Photoshop and Instagram filters). But recent advances in AI are going to take it further still, by giving machines the power to generate wholly synthetic media. This will have huge implications on how we produce content, and how we communicate and interpret the world. This technology is still nascent, but in a few years’ time anyone with a smartphone will be able to produce Hollywood-level special effects at next to no cost, with minimum skill or effort.

While this will have many positive applications – movies and computer games are going to become ever more spectacular – it will also be used as a weapon.

When used maliciously as disinformation, or when used as misinformation, a piece of synthetic media is called a ‘deepfake’. This is my definition for the word. Because this field is still so new, there is still no consensus on the taxonomy.  However, because there are positive as well as negative uses-cases for synthetic media, I distinguish a ‘deepfake’ specifically as any synthetic media that is used for mis- and disinformation purposes.

The Obama YouTube video was produced by the Hollywood Director Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed, and was intended to be educational, serving as a warning for these potential negative use cases of synthetic media.

As ‘Obama’ goes on to say, “Moving forward we need to be more vigilant with what we trust on the Internet. It may sound basic, but how we move forward in the Age of Information is going to be the difference between whether we survive or if we become some fucked-up dystopia.”

Book Excerpt

From Deepfakes by Nina Schick

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