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FakeApp is the national threat you’ve never heard of, but will soon see everywhere

It all began on “the front page of the Internet” – Reddit  – when a bored technologist decided to place Nic Cage’s face on familiar film moments; taking Harrison Ford’s place in Raiders of the Lost Ark, once in Game of Thrones, and potentially as every character in Lord of the Rings.

It was a harmless Internet trick that’s taken a turn for the worst.

Using the same technology, fittingly named FakeApp (research at your own discretion), Redditors began replacing the faces of pornographic film stars with the faces of respectable celebrities – Jessica Alba, Emma Watson, and Daisy Ridley are among the dozens of victims.

Imagine this happening to you, your child, or a friend. The average person has hundreds of photos and video moments in the public domain which could be used to carry out one of these awful defamations of character.

Today, the average set of eyes can spot a deepfake (a video that’s been manipulated using FakeApp). Unfortunately, this won’t be the case forever.

In the next 4-6 years, this technology will reach the usability (and believability) of Snapchat’s FaceSwap. You won’t have to be well-versed in machine learning to create one of these fake videos. And that is quite frightening.

There’s a chance that this technology could be used to bring media manipulation to an entirely new level. There’s a chance this technology could extinguish what little grasp we have on what’s reality and what isn’t.

I emphasize that there’s “a chance” because most of the media attention around FakeApp has fear mongered an awful future that none of us want to be a part of.

In the process of scaring the sh** out of the general public, though, the media inadvertently inspired many minds to take action. At UC-Berkeley, Hany Farid, a professor of computer science, is leading digital forensics and computer vision research to combat the deepfake techniques. Likewise, Jordan Peele, the famous sketch comedian and movie producer, used the FakeApp technology to create a believable public address from Barack Obama:

Peele’s message is that the tools to create and spread fake video news are here – that each one of us as consumers play a part in this story. There’s never been a more demanding time for us to develop our judgment and improve our critical thinking. However, as great it is to advise people “just don’t get fooled”, this cannot be our only defense. Fortunately, we’re getting some reinforcements.

Inscribe is one company we uncovered that’s using computer vision and machine learning algorithms to verify the legitimacy of online documents. Although their digital forensics may not be able to fight against deepfake videos today, I can see them working toward it one day. After all, isn’t a video just a collection of photos anyway?

More concretely, the US Defense Department has launched a Media Forensics division with researchers like Professor Farid to develop tools that’ll detect deepfakes with ease.

The examples above illustrate technology that will be used to counteract FakeApp and deepfakes. Then again, why not just cut off their circulation into the world?

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This is a Facebook Problem

Deepfakes wouldn’t be a major threat to society if there weren’t social media – this extremely low-barrier outlet for the average person to share lies. This has been a huge topic of discussion following the 2016 US Presidential Election, with the whole case around election meddling and fake news spread on Facebook.

More than anything, it was a huge call-to-action to entrepreneurs and great thinkers to start companies that combat Fake News. You’ve got plugins like BS Detector which warn you of an unreliable source. You’ve got AllSides which is a news source that identifies which political side the bias of an article leans toward.

Additionally, Facebook and Twitter are doing their part by combatting the automated bots that are running rampant on their sites – stealing identities and spreading fake news. Twitter has suspended over 70 million bots and fake accounts. Facebook disabled 1.3 billion fake accounts earlier this year.

Coming back to the FakeApp and deepfakes discussion, Facebook has some of the best facial recognition technology in the world. I’m confident they’ll find ways to combat deepfakes by verifying the integrity of videos before allowing them to be posted. However, if deepfakes become a real problem on Facebook, I think something else interesting will happen.

Following the 2001 anthrax attacks on American media companies, the FBI launched a 5-year investigation into pinning down the terrorists to make sure it would never happen again. In tandem, another solution emerged: companies just stopped sending mail. E-mail became even more present in day-to-day business communication.

If we experience a deepfake attack on social media in the coming years, then I’ll expect a similar exodus from social media.

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