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deepfake AI (deep fake)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Deep fake (also spelled deepfake) is a type of artificial intelligence used to create convincing images, audio and video hoaxes. The term, which describes both the technology and the resulting bogus content, is a portmanteau of deep learning and fake.

An example use case includes when a health charity in the UK used a deepfake to have David Beckham deliver an anti-malaria message. This message was also delivered in nine languages. However, the most notable use case -- and most dangerous -- is when others choose to use the technology for nefarious purposes. They could be used to spread false information from an otherwise trusted source, for example, with election propaganda. This has led to the thinking that this technology is disruptive to modern life.

How Deepfakes work

Deepfake content is created by using two competing AI algorithms -- one is called the generator and the other is called the discriminator. The generator, which creates the phony multimedia content, asks the discriminator to determine whether the content is real or artificial.

Together, the generator and discriminator form something called a generative adversarial network (GAN). Each time the discriminator accurately identifies content as being fabricated, it provides the generator with valuable information about how to improve the next deepfake.

The first step in establishing a GAN is to identify the desired output and create a training dataset for the generator. Once the generator begins creating an acceptable level of output, video clips can be fed to the discriminator.

As the generator gets better at creating fake video clips, the discriminator gets better at spotting them. Conversely, as the discriminator gets better at spotting fake video, the generator gets better at creating them. 

Until recently, video content has been more difficult to alter in any substantial way. Because deepfakes are created through AI, however, they don't require the considerable skill that it would take to create a realistic video otherwise. Unfortunately, this means that just about anyone can create a deepfake to promote their chosen agenda. For example, a deepfake could be used to spread false information via a presidential candidate. Microsoft, however, has worked on an AI-powered deepfake detection software for this purpose. The tool can automatically analyze videos and photos to provide a confidence score that the media has been manipulated.

Another possible danger deepfakes introduce is that people will take such videos at face value, and after realizing it’s fake,  people will stop trusting in the validity of any video content at all.

Learn more about deepfakes and the technology behind them:

This was last updated in October 2020

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