So it looks like not only are we going to have to worry about digitally fabricated realistic sounding audio when trying to separate fact from fiction, but soon enough we’ll have digitally fabricated facial expressions to contend with as well. Great.
One research paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg demonstrated how technologists can record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The professors’ technology could take a news clip of, say, Vladimir Putin, and alter his facial expressions in real time in hard-to-detect ways. In fact, in this video demonstrating the technology, the researchers show how they did manipulate Putin’s facial expressions and responses, among those of other people, too.
This is eerie, to say the least. But it’s only one part of the future fake-news menace. Other similar technologies have been in the works in universities and research labs for years, but they have never really pulled off what computers can do today. Take for example “The Digital Emily Project,” a study in which researchers created digital actors that could be used in lieu of real people. For the past several years, the results have been crude and easily detectable as digital re-creations. But technologies that are now used by Hollywood and the video-game industry have largely rendered digital avatars almost indecipherable from real people. (Go and watch the latest Star Wars to see if you can tell which actors are real and which are computer-generated. I bet you can’t tell the difference.) You could imagine some political group utilizing that technology to create a fake hidden video clip of President Trump telling Rex Tillerson that he plans to drop a nuclear bomb on China. The velocity with which news clips spread across social media would also mean that the administration would have frightfully little time to respond before a fake-news story turned into an international crisis.
The scariest part is that you don’t need a room full of supercomputers to pull this off. All it takes is a consumer grade laptop or two and a similarly off the shelf webcame.
If obviously garbage fake text stories are fooling so many of us now, good luck to the rest of us once the fakes actually become convincing.