'It's as if you created a bionic person': Cyber experts warn of 'deepfake' dangers

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It’s a Team 12/Kane In Your Corner investigation that could make you doubt your own eyes. Cybersecurity experts and political analysts are raising concerns about “deepfakes,” doctored videos so sophisticated most people can’t tell them from the real thing.

One of the most famous deepfakes appears to show former President Barack Obama giving a speech. But the words are actually being supplied by comedian Jordan Peele, who released the video in conjunction with Buzzfeed to warn people not to blindly trust what they see.

PODCAST: Walt Kane talks to cybersecurity expert Adam Levin and pollster Patrick Murray about deepfake technology and its public impact.

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Washington have demonstrated how the technology can produce results that are nearly impossible to detect with the naked eye. Starting with video and audio of a subject that can be used as a reference, sophisticated computer algorithms and facial mapping software can do the rest. They can change facial expressions and lip movements to match the new words being supplied. Stanford researchers found those words can simply be typed in on a keyboard, and deepfake software will match them with the reference audio to mimic the subject’s voice and inflection.

News 12’s Walt Kane found the results are realistic enough to fool most people.

“They’re putting words into somebody else’s mouth,” said Lisa Lovermi, of Fair Lawn.

“I think it’s honestly [messed] up,” said Eric Lu, of South Brunswick. “Anyone can get convicted of anything, and anyone can be judged guilty given this technology.”

Cybersecurity expert Adam Levin says the technology will only get better. “A deepfake is literally taking an image on top of an image and creating this algorithm, where it’s as if you created a bionic person,” he says.

One of America’s most respected political pollsters, Patrick Murray, warns deepfakes could potentially wreak havoc on America’s political system. “People are inclined to believe these things, in part because they want to,” says Murray, who runs the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

So in a world where people may not be able to trust their eyes, what should they do?

Murray predicts that Americans will eventually adjust to this new technology, noting there was a time, before Photoshop, when people thought still photos were conclusive evidence. In the meantime, he urges people to get their news from trusted sources, and contends journalists must play a key role in debunking deepfakes.

“When these things come up, the media as a whole, all the news outlets need to come out very vehemently,” he says.

Full interview: Walt Kane talks to Patrick Murray, of the Monmouth University Polling Institute

 

Deepfake research:
University of Washington Deepfake research
Stanford University Deepfake research

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