What are Deepfakes, and Why Are They so Dangerous?

Jorge Felix Last updated: May 6, 2023 Read time: 16 minutes Disclosure

Deepfakes pose great entertainment opportunities but also criminal activities. This article explains the risks and how to avoid them.

Deepfakes are the latest development in AI-assisted multimedia. The means to produce deepfakes are becoming increasingly available to the general public. That involves risks and potential for criminal activities like we’ve never seen before. The only trick to avoid being fooled by deepfake is to detect it by knowing what deepfake is all about.

Perfect replication has been a holy grail of sorts for Sci-Fi for decades. Think about Star Trek’s replicator devices which can reproduce anything from food to tools, except for latinum, which is why it’s the galaxy’s currency. Or the T-1000 robot in the Terminator franchise can adapt its shape to look like any person. Well, digital technology’s current state of the art is getting close to perfect replication, at least when it comes to digital media. So now we have a new technological item, the “deepfake .”It’s a piece of media altered to look and sound like anybody, dead or alive. So the future is here, and it’s not always good news.

What is a Deepfakes?

Deepfake is a piece of digital media. Videos are the most popular kind that is engineered to look genuine.

Deepfakes come courtesy of our most advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies. These cutting-edge tools allow the manipulation of video and audio that come close to the real thing. Very close indeed.

Look at this example below. It features a false Mark Zuckerberg (of Facebook fame) in which he uttered a few words worthy of a Bond villain — even referencing Spectre.

The Washington Post shared this video in 2019 while highlighting Facebook’s act of retaining falsified deepfake videos of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This one still looks a little rough on the edges, so you can tell it’s fake if you look carefully enough. But improvements are inevitable.

Making a deepfake is still a challenging task. First, the AI needs a previously trained neural network, and the training process needs enormous datasets comprised of thousands of images. Then, you need specialized software. After that, you need to do the same with the voice, which is much easier, and then mix the video and the audio so that the lips and the voice are synced.

How do deepfakes work?

Deepfakes work by mimicking the speech patterns and behavior of a target person. They use advanced technology where a deep learning system is trained to copy the movement and expression of the target person from different angles.

The model is then taken through the generative adversarial networks (GANs) process that detects forgery and flaws for improvement. After a series of improvements in the GANs process, the end product is a persuasive counterfeit video that can effectively spread fake news and influence social, economic, and technological activities.

In some cases, powerful politicians appeared in inappropriate deepfake videos when their competitors wanted to settle a political score.

History of deepfake AI technology

The deepfake idea started with photo manipulation using tools like Adobe Photoshop. It later advanced and became a reality in the mid-2010s when sophisticated deep learning algorithms began developing owing to AI and machine learning technology, large data sets, and cheap computing power.

Deepfakes became more popular after the development of GAN technology in 2014. It detects flaws and forgeries in a deepfake video indicating areas that need improvement. The epitome of the popularity of deepfake videos is in 2017 when an anonymous Reddit user with the username ‘deepfakes’ used the GAN tool to swap faces and release celebrity deepfake videos. They went viral on social media and raised more questions about controlling deepfakes. Tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and Facebook have invested heavily in deepfake detection. However, they face a big challenge because deepfake AI technology is rapidly advancing, and today, people are creating even more convincing deepfakes than before.

Who is using deepfakes?

You’d be amazed at the number of deepfakes circulating the internet since they’re so hard to make. But Facebook was able to collect about 1,00,000 of them in June 2020. The social network giant used the collection to develop and train an algorithm to detect deepfakes.

The large number of deepfakes already around suggests that they are becoming increasingly more accessible and cheaper. So as more people become able to make them, their uses will also increase for both good and bad things. So let’s see how they are being used so far.

1. Fake news

Ironically, in our “information age,” fake news is disruptive due to its prevalence and influence over the public. Deepfakes help them make them more credible than ever, so deepfakes are the perfect propaganda tool. They promise to be the ultimate voting manipulation device soon.