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What are deepfakes – and how can you spot them?

By Ian Sample

13 Jan 2020 · 8 min read

What is a deepfake? Have you seen Barack Obama call Donald Trump a “complete dipshit”, or Mark Zuckerberg brag about having “total control of billions of people’s stolen data”, or witnessed Jon Snow’s moving apology for the dismal ending to Game of Thrones? Answer yes and you’ve seen a deepfake. The 21st century’s answer to Photoshopping, deepfakes use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make images of fake events, hence the name deepfake. Want to put new words in a politician’s mouth, star in your favourite movie, or dance like a pro? Then it’s time to make a deepfake.

What are they for? Many are pornographic. The AI firm Deeptrace found 15,000 deepfake videos online in September 2019, a near doubling over nine months. A staggering 96% were pornographic and 99% of those mapped faces from female celebrities on to porn stars. As new techniques allow unskilled people to make deepfakes with a handful of photos, fake videos are likely to spread beyond the celebrity world to fuel revenge porn. As Danielle Citron, a professor of law at Boston University, puts it: “Deepfake technology is being weaponised against women.” Beyond the porn there’s plenty of spoof, satire and mischief.

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