- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Fake news, meet artificial intelligence.

A video created by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele and released by BuzzFeed appears to show Barack Obama referencing the movie “Black Panther,” remarking on HUD Secretary Ben Carson and calling President Donald Trump a “total and complete dips—.” But it was all fake.

It was all a fraud.

A fabrication. A figment of technological imaginations.

Obama wasn’t actually speaking. His face may have been on screen, his mouth may have been moving, his lips may have been shaping syllables in sync with the words that were heard. But he was all a product of Peele’s production company and of the skillful employment of Adobe After Effects and the AI face-swapping FakeApp tool.

Welcome to the wonderful world of artificial intelligence.

In the video, Obama warns — or does he? — of the need to be savvy about the future of online news, by saying: “We’re entering an era which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time, even if they would never say those things.”

This is true. 

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti released the video as a public service announcement about the growing abilities of technology to ratchet the fake news environment to a new level. At one point, Peele is shown in the video in a side-by-side with Obama, while both men speak simultaneously the same words, in one voice: “This is a dangerous time. Moving forward we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the Internet. It’s a time where we need to rely on trusted news sources.”

This is true, too.

The Internet is already filled with false reports, skewed news and biased coverage, and political watchers in particular have to be on their toes to discern the truth from lies, fact from fiction.

Now add AI and suddenly, the whole fake news process becomes a bit easier to navigate, a bit faster to achieve, a bit more user-friendly to develop. It won’t be long before some smart marketer comes up with ingenious television ads for movie-making software that swaps out faces and subs in voices — and hey now, move over karaoke machines, here’s the coolest Christmas gift this season. Or, for some enterprising research and development hotshot at Samsung or AT&T to design a smart phone app that allows for easy editing-slash-face-swapping of recordings that are shot on hand-held devices. 

From there, the technology will only fine tune, improve and move mainstream.

This faked Obama video may not be at the point of complete believability just yet. But it’s decent; it shows potential. It shows the direction AI’s pointing and opens the pathway for improvements. Moreover, it fuels the drive for those with technological savvy to compete on the business end and make the necessary improvements. All that’s needed now is a bit of time, a bit more technological advancement, a bit of marketing pop and soon enough, the technology will become just another consumer tool, just another fun consumer past-time. Or, on the dark side: Just another way of engaging in the political process and shaping the media narrative.

Soon enough, we’ll all be watching videos and listening to audio of noted political figures and world leaders and wondering — did he really say that? Is that fake news? And the scary thing is, it’ll be really tough to tell.

• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter, @ckchumley.


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