What are deepfakes? The terrifying technology investigated by Shane Dawson

31 January 2019, 16:37

shane dawson deepfakes deep fakes
Picture: Instagram: Shane Dawson
Benedict Townsend

By Benedict Townsend

This technology is terrifying - and very real

In the explosive first episode of Shane Dawson's new 'Conspiracy Series', Shane takes a look at the bizarre world of 'deepfakes' - but what are they? Here's a deep dive into the terrifying world of digital face theft.

What is a deepfake?

The term "deepfake" is a combination of "deep learning" and "fake". "Deep learning" is a technical term which refers to the way computer programs learn.

The technology - which is rapidly advancing, uses the power of AI to digitally paint one person's face over another. The results can be so realistic that it can be difficult to differentiate between what is real and what is artificial.

Take a look at this video of Obama, which Shane showed briefly in his video:

How easy is it to make a deepfake?

Deepfakes originally demanded a lot of time and resource to produce, with a passable deepfake taking over 24 hours and a serious amount of computer hardware to render.

Now, with the incredible exponential progress of tech, deepfakes take less time and require less powerful technology to produce, to the point where now even phone apps are able to render out deepfakes in less than a minute.

When deepfakes get sinister.

While deepfakes can be used for fun photo-filter nonsense and also for dumb re-edits of movies, they can also be used for much darker purposes - and frequently are.

One big problem already is the use of deepfakes in pornography. The faces of celebrities are placed over porn videos, creating the illusion that the celebrity is in the video. There have also been cases of regular people being victims of pornographic deepfakes, as a form of harassment or revenge.

Another issue is the manipulation of videos of politicians and important figures in order to sow confusion in the political sphere.

Are deepfakes illegal?

In the UK, there has been at least one case of a person being imprisoned for creating a pornographic deepfake (he got 16 weeks behind bars) but that was done under the crime of harassment. There is currently no specific crime that refers to deepfakes themselves, but lawmakers are rushing to get a law passed soon.

Similarly, in the United States charges like identity theft, cyberstalking, and revenge porn have been used to deal with deepfake offences, but there is also no specific law dealing with it (yet).

Can you find deepfakes online?

Aside from jokey deepfake compilations that can sometimes be found on YouTube, deepfakes are generally not widley accepted by sites online, for obvious reasons.

Many sites including: Twitter, Reddit, Pornhub, Google and Gfycat have all specifically banned pornographic deepfake material, but the situation around material involving non-sexual deepfakes is much more vague.

This technology is very new, but needs to be dealt with as fast as possible, before it becomes impossible to trust literally any video you see.