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What is ‘Deepfakes’ and why is everyone freaking out about it?

If you’ve seen the word ‘Deepfakes’ thrown around in recent weeks but don’t have a clue what it is, you’re not the only one.

The term hit headlines early in 2018 after a Redditor developed an open source app which allows anybody to replace a face in a video. Users can do it with just consumer grade hardware and no particular skills.

The “FakeApp” – which was initially available in a dedicated DeepFakes subreddit and downloaded over 100,000 times – is able to scan a series of photographs and map facial attributes onto another face in a pre-existing video.

Obviously, because this is the internet, the first tests to circle the internet were porn videos where the stars’ faces were replaced with someone else’s.

Now, if you really wanted to, you can watch yourself kissing another version of you. Welcome to the future!

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People all over the world started using the app to scan high profile actresses and personalities like Gal Gadot, Emma Watson, Scarlett Johansson and Ivanka Trump into pornographic clips – and from a legal standpoint, there’s very little they can do right now to stop the videos being created and have the creators prosecuted.

That’s right, the tech is so cutting edge it surpasses the capacity of our current legal system.

But the technology is also being used outside of porn, including the following fake videos of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin:

Deepfakes is still in its early stages and the results can look a little crude, but the mind-boggling potential of such technology is certainly there. There’s little doubt we’ll soon be at a point where fake and original are indistinguishable, that is if we aren’t already.

One can only wonder about the social and political implications of such a technology. Can you imagine a world where reality and fiction are the very same? Where nothing – not photos, not videos, not science – are a proof of fact?

Evidently, Reddit admins held some serious concerns about Deepfakes: the subreddit was permanently banned shortly after its surge in popularity. Even PornHub ultimately decided to ban any of the videos from its website.

Aside from really uncanny pornography and some speeches from politicians, the most common use of the app so far has been to insert Nicholas Cage into movies like Man of Steel, Indiana Jones and Terminator. The internet never disappoints.

Described as a “non-professional researcher with interest in machine learning”, the anonymous creator of the app is known only on Reddit under the username “Deepfakes”.

“I just found a clever way to do a face-swap,” they told Motherboard.

“With hundreds of face images, I can easily generate millions of distorted images to train the network.

“After that, if I feed the network someone else’s face, the network will think it’s just another distorted image and try to make it look like the training face.”

Artificial intelligence researcher Alex Champandard says consumer-grade graphics cards could process these effects in just hours, and even without a powerful card, users can use their CPU power to do it (albeit slowly) over days.

“This is no longer rocket science,” Champandard said.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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