We hope that you had a good Richard Nixon Day last Thursday. Nixon may not have been our most popular president and he may have also been dead since 1994 but he was back in the news last week. MIT created a deepfake video of him reading a prepared speech following the crash of Apollo 11 on the Moon in 1969. The video was meant to educate the public to the threat that deepfakes pose and was used as part of an exhibit on alternate history in Amsterdam.

Deepfakes In Use

What technology can do today is astounding. It can make aged actors look young(er) and it can change the world around you turning summer into winter. It can be used to mimic expressions in a video or it can be used to create phony speeches. Some of these may not seem that bad but some of these could lead to a major catastrophe.

Think about it for a second. Imagine a video is created of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Enough of his speeches are out there that audio could be pulled out and inserted making (or just simply run through a program that makes it sound like him) where he calls for an invasion of the US or Europe. Putin himself will deny it and will claim it is a fake but will we be able to take the chance when Putin is in control of a powerful arsenal of weapons that could wipe any country off the face of the Earth? The same can be done for Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, Boris Johnson or any other host of world leaders. 

Deepfakes Being Used For Crime

It is not a pleasant thought. This technology has already been used to scam money from people. Lots of money for one CEO of a UK-based energy firm in fact. Creating this is not even that hard to do anymore. Adobe, famous for its own Photoshop software, is developing Voco, or Photoshop for voices and others are working on it as well.

This may have the power to change history. Imagine someone changing a speech by JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. or Ronard Reagan and then posting the video to YouTube. Millions of people could potentially watch it not realizing that the speech was altered. Suddenly now JFK might be surrendering to the Soviets following the Cuban Missile Crisis (and someone could then claim that this is why he was assassinated) or Dr. King could now call for racial violence. This has the power to alter history as a lie will spread halfway around the world before the truth can strap on its boots.

Faking A Never Given Speech

Now back to Nixon. The speech itself was very real. The Apollo 11 mission was perhaps the more daring mission humans had ever undertaken. They were using new and relatively untried technology and the chance of failure was very real. It was quite possible that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would never return home. We know it did not happen and Nixon gave a very different speech for the occasion but he had this speech prepared just in case.

A Political Weapon?

As we move into 2020, with everything going on around us and what is sure to be a hotly contested presidential election being able to navigate the world of fake news and the deepfake will become paramount. With today’s partisan and tribal divide it would be very easy to create a deepfake video of a presidential candidate saying something outrageous and spreading it around the Internet. Considering the lax journalistic standards and the gullibility of many people on both sides of the political aisle it would be held up as a shining example of why their opponent is evil and should not be trusted. It’s already happened to UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and to Johnson during their most recent election as a warning about this power. It also was used in Malaysia to create a gay sex tape of a political rival that nearly led to him being arrested. The man was not arrested only after claiming that the person in the video could not be him since his body was in too good of shape.

There is no real way to stop a deepfake either. The only way would be to correct it by showing the real speech or real event to each and every person who falls for it, something that is utterly impossible to do. It is only a matter of time before one of these of Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or any other presidential candidate emerges. The candidate will of course say it is fake while their opponents will say it is real. It will be something that affects both sides and has the power to rip this country (and the world) to its core. 

How Orwellian?

At the same time imagine how great it would be for a dictator to go back and erase any of their embarrassing moments from the pages of history, like say meeting or shaking hands with their enemy. Today the Internet allows for those moments to remain visible forever but in countries like Russia and China that have restrictions placed on their citizens it would potentially be easy to do. It would allow Xi Jinping to rewrite history, to edit out or vilify political rivals or to add in new political allies. Sounds very 1984, doesn’t it?

Can A Deepfake Be Spotted

How can you spot a deepfake? It is very difficult. For some the movements of the mouth may not always align with the words being said. Other than that for a good quality one the only true defense right now is your own BS meter. If it seems off it may very well be off. Does the person use words that they don’t always use (one created as an educational tool had Trump using a word he has never been heard using before) or something with the voice might just seem off. Other than that, it may require technology or AI to identify it as Facebook is pursuing.

As we enter a presidential election year, we at Nicely Done Sites are not backing one candidate over another but we do urge you that when you hear a candidate say something outrageous to double check it and make sure it is true. Politics is a dirty game and deepfakes give campaigners and criminals alike an opportunity to sow division and create controversy. A deepfake is not easy to spot and can have an impact on all of us.

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