Deepfakes: How long until one causes real damage?

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After emerging from obscurity back in 2018, deepfakes — which use machine learning and AI to create hyper-realistic fake images and videos of people — are once again capturing people's attention. The latest example doing the rounds is a creepy fake Tom Cruise, who is on TikTok as @deeptomcruise doing magic tricks and playing golf — and honestly if you didn't tell us it was fake, we're not sure we would have known.

The fact that deepfakes have gotten so good is perhaps no surprise. Academic papers citing the word deepfake have exploded, and global interest on Google has remained elevated ever since 2018.

Still fun, for now

Back in 2019 a mobile app called FaceApp exploded in popularity, generating highly realistic face transformations that were a great source of silly entertainment for millions of people. That virality didn't last long, as legitimate privacy concerns cropped up over the app's use of personal data. Since then, similar apps such as Reface have emerged, which is probably the closest deepfake technology has gotten to really "going mainstream".

The risk that a deepfake video is used to misinform millions of people is one that, fortunately, has yet to come to bear — but it feels increasingly likely. The good news is that a majority of the academic papers that mention deepfakes also mention "deepfake detection", suggesting an awareness among researchers that it is going to be an important field.One such company involved in deepfake detection, Cyabra, identified that Oliver Taylor, a supposed freelance journalist from England, was probably completely made up — and that his half-dozen articles and blog posts were actually written by someone else.

Let's hope deepfake producers stick to getting followers on TikTok.

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