Commentary

Jim Acosta, Deepfakes -- And The Death Of Truth

It was a year ago next month that a user called “deepfakes” started posting to Reddit. First it was the face of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, superimposed onto the body of a porn star, purporting to show her having sex with her stepbrother. Next, he uploaded hardcore porn videos featuring the faces of Scarlett Johansson and Taylor Swift similarly superimposed.

Plenty of people were understandably horrified. Motherboard’s Samantha Cole declared that, “AI-Assisted Porn Is Here and We’re All F***ed.” Rolling Stone’s Kirsten Dold called it “a terrifying snapshot of what machine-learning technology can accomplish in the wrong hands.”

By February, Reddit had banned the subreddit, calling it “involuntary pornography” -- but the artificially intelligent cat was out of the face-swapping bag. Deepfakes (the name of the original user has now become the name of the genre) are here to stay.

If involuntary pornography doesn’t seem particularly terrible, imagine if it happened to you — or to your daughter, or to your wife. It is, plainly, a violation, with potentially devastating consequences to the individuals involved.

Deepfakes isn’t just about porn, either. With enough reference imagery, you can use the technique to create video of almost anyone doing or saying almost anything.

There are, however, people out there who still care about old-fashioned values like “truth” and “reality.” And so a war is being fought, on multiple fronts.

Some, like Mary Anne Franks, a technology law professor at the University of Miami and advisor for the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, say tech gatekeepers like Google and Facebook have to downgrade or deindex this kind of content.

Others, like the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), are working on AI that can recognize AI: machine learning software that can automatically detect artificially generated videos. And others are working on awareness and education -- like this video of “Barack Obama.”

These measures all seem woefully inadequate. The DARPA technology, for example, currently relies on the fact that deepfake videos don’t blink as often as real ones. But already a new technology called deep video portraits addresses that issue.

It’s a cat-and-mouse game that will only get worse. And the advantage is fully with the fakes. You don’t need a perfect fake video to spread a rumor, sow distrust, feed people’s fears and biases, or undermine attempts at common ground. An okay fake video will do nicely. As Jonathan Swift wrote, “if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect.”

Which is why it is so intensely disturbing that Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a doctored video of Jim Acosta, making it look like his encounter with an aide was worse than it was.

Like the fake interview of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from July, the Acosta video is not a deepfake or a deep video portrait. It doesn’t use any AI at all. It simply shows how easy it is to undermine the truth. If we can fall for the Acosta and the Ocasio-Cortez videos, imagine when deepfakes properly permeate the political sphere.

If a government agency shares falsified videos and presents them as the truth, there must be consequences. Today, it’s Jim Acosta’s arm coming down slightly faster that it actually did. Tomorrow, he’s asking things he never asked, or doing things he never did.

We are altogether too blithe with our usage of the term “post-truth.” It’s time for us to decide whether that is actually what we want.

5 comments about "Jim Acosta, Deepfakes -- And The Death Of Truth".
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  1. Kenny Kurtz from creative license, November 11, 2018 at 11:39 a.m.

    Much ado about very little. More fear mongering.

    I saw Acosta accost that intern in real time, and now I've seen the supposedly "doctored" video that "speeds up" Acosta's boldness, and aggressiveness.

    That Acosta erred by aggressively thwarting that young intern's ability to fulfill her duty (simply, to bring the microphone to the next person in line to present a question) is THE TRUTH regardless of real-time, or "speeded up."

    Unless you want to go back to Clinton's "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" truth from two decades ago.

    Enough already with the whining, and crying about what is emanating from "the Trump Administration." Trump, and his people learned well from the crookedness, and LYING that has existed in politics since Day One, and will continue to exist until the end of time. I mean, I actually voted for Obama partially as a result of his convincing LYING about "I'll be the most inclusive President of all time, a leader that will reach across the aisle to get more done than any previous President in history."

    Trump's gotten more of America's business done in two years than Obama did in eight, and Obama engaged in virtually no "across the aisle reaching-out." Truth is, he wasn't cut out for it. For persuasion, or high-level negotiation.

    Politicians are liars, saying what the current political winds dictate they should say to curry favor, and get more votes REGARDLESS OF TRUTH...the nature of the political process dictates at least that broad truism. Trump is no worse than his predecessors, in fact, there has been a certain freshness in his saying whatever comes to his mind that seems far less politically calculated than his predecessors. He says things that no other poltician would ever say, for fear of offending, and losing support... sticks by those things in many cases, and then either changes his mind (very human) or FOLLOWS THROUGH ON THEM. People may not like some of the policy that results (even as many others do) but for crying out loud STOP DEMONIZING THE GUY. He's a broken human being, as are all of us. He can be a crass, insolent buffoon... but we've seen others like that in the Oval Office throughout history, none of whom had to deal with the 24/7 instantaneous digital coverage of every utterance, and occurrence that exists in 2018.

    Just think. Only five decades ago, our President, and his brother (US Attorney General) were sneaking dozens of prostitutes, and starlets into the White House under the noses of their wives Jackie and Ethel to "share." Can you imagine the field day "the media" would be having with that today, in the "Me Too" era?

  2. Kenny Kurtz from creative license replied, November 11, 2018 at 11:40 a.m.

    Rumor has it that the Kennedy brothers were instrumental in the demise, and "suicide" (by barbiturate overdose) of Marilyn Monroe. JFK was a drug addict, and needed barbiturates to sleep. Did he "turn Marilyn on" to them while he and Bobby were tag-teaming her in the White House? 2018 enquiring minds saturated with 24/7 digital fake reporting really have a right to know!

    And I'm supposed to be outraged at Trump having liasons with attractive women while a private citizen, a successful businessman, celebrity, and billionaire? Not even in the White House? Stop it Dems... you're splitting my sides with the outrageousness, and laughter.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston replied, November 12, 2018 at 11:34 a.m.

    Amen, Kenny. Calling the sped-up video a deepfake is just a cover story to defend Acosta, circling the wagons to justify another over-aggressive journalist from a news network that is no less biased than Fox. Indeed it’s possibly more fake news. 

  4. Ngoc T from Iowa, November 13, 2018 at 10:42 a.m.

    The offending video was sped up a bit. Don't be so quick to blame. Unless Sarah had access to the original video from the original source, she has no control over its speed. It's common for video that gets uploaded, downloaded, and reloaded to slow or speed up as part of the transfer process going from one media and source to another.

    Think camera (original source), to computer (archive destination), to website or YouTube or Twitter (published media), to smart phone (viewing source). Every new destination alters video quality and speed. No ill intent is required.

    Video speed is irrelevant to show the intern was physically obstructed from doing her job. No doctoring required.

    What makes my opinion on video editing more qualified than any other? Remember when Photoshop was provided on floppy disks, and video editing was performed with Macromedia Director? I do.

  5. Kenny Kurtz from creative license, November 15, 2018 at 4:06 p.m.

    Speaking of TRUTH...

    The biggest problem for the left right now is not so much that they themselves are committed to knocking down Trump (a Weeble, really. He wobbles but he won't fall down). It is more that the left gets behind the most ridiculous things, and people TO ASSIST them in knocking Trump down (unfortunately, only resulting in more weebling on Trump's part, and THE LEFT ULTIMATELY FALLING DOWN ON ITS OWN ASS as a result).

    An example. The ridiculous support for the porn star, and her lawyer. Good God, did every left-leaning news organization bend over backwards to provide maximum air time to that woman, and her cretinous lawyer Avenatti. Remember? Oh... they were going to knock Trump down good, hence, the preposterous amount of air time given to that freaky sideshow.

    Set aside for the moment that Trump was accused of having a one-time sexual liaison with the porn star in 2006, TEN YEARS BEFORE HE BECAME PRESIDENT! Am I really supposed to be outraged by that? A billionaire businessman that is also a multimedia celebrity having a sexual encounter with a porn star while a private citizen? I really only know one thing in all of this... porn stars are KNOWN to go after billionaire celebrity businessmen. It's good for their images, and bottom lines.

    Anyway, months later, a judge dismisses the porn star's, and her lawyer's silly, dumb lawsuit against Trump (and the left gets painted as silly, and dumb as well for having thrown in with that), and then the lawyer is arrested for domestic abuse after a lengthy investigation into a beating on his ex-wife. THESE are the types of "throw-ins" that continue to tarnish the Democrats "brand."

    And to make matters worse, the real outrage that was President Bill Clinton, while occupying the MOST POWERFUL OFFICE ON PLANET EARTH to seduce a fresh out of college, 21 year old intern in his employ, three decades his junior, into the most quintessential example of WORKPLACE SEXUAL HARASSMENT ever! Well, every time a Democrat attempts to explain that away with "that was a consensual relationship"... THE DEMOCRAT'S BRAND IS FURTHER TARNISHED! Lies, deceit, and hateful hypocrisy will tarnish a brand all day, every day, and twice on Sunday. And that's all the left has going right now...

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