What is a Deepfake? How Can You Spot One

by Chris Von Wilpert, BBusMan • Last updated April 8, 2024

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What are deepfakes?

Have you ever watched Bill Hader morph into Tom Cruise during an interview, or seen Keanu Reeves replace Will Smith in The Matrix, or witnessed a deepfake of Queen Elizabeth II delivering a comedic alternative Christmas message? If your answer is “yes”, then you've experienced the world of deepfakes. 

Deepfakes are based on cutting-edge artificial intelligence known as deep learning that creates hyper-realistic images and videos where people appear to say and do things they never actually did. 

Want to make your favorite celebrity sing karaoke, have historical figures engage in hilarious conversations, or even swap faces with your best friend for laughs? Then it's time you try out deepfakes.

Deepfake fast facts

  • Deepfakes use AI and machine learning to superimpose faces or create new scenes.

  • Tools like Microsoft's Video Authenticator are being developed to detect deepfakes.

  • Platforms like DeepSwap make deepfake creation accessible to beginners.

  • The legality of deepfakes varies by location and use; some U.S. states have anti-deepfake laws.

  • Deepfakes pose both creative possibilities and ethical risks like misinformation and fraud.

How do people make deepfakes?

People create deepfakes using AI algorithms, often combining machine learning and neural networks. They start by feeding the algorithm large datasets of images or videos of the target subject. This data trains the model on facial features, expressions, and other nuances.

Once trained; these models can generate new content by superimposing faces onto existing footage or even synthesizing entirely new scenes from scratch. Software like DeepSwap has made it easier for individuals with minimal technical expertise to experiment creating their own deepfake videos and images at home.

However, as ethical concerns grow around potential misuse, developers and researchers work diligently to develop countermeasures that help detect and combat deceptive materials generated through such techniques before they cause harm.

Can you use deepfakes for free?

Yes, there are several free tools and open-source software available that allow users to create deepfakes without any cost. A popular example is DeepSwap, which provides an accessible algorithm for people interested in experimenting with this technology.

These programs typically offer user-friendly interfaces and step-by-step guides on how to generate deepfake videos or images. However, it's essential to consider the ethical implications of creating such content — especially when using someone else's likeness without their consent.

While some may use these tools harmlessly for entertainment purposes or creative projects, others might misuse them maliciously — making it crucial to always be mindful of potential consequences before engaging in any form of deepfake creation.

Faces etched with electronic circuits evoke the complexity of deepfake technology, blurring the lines between human authenticity and digital fabrication. Photograph: Geralt via Pixabay.

Can software detect deepfakes?

Yes, software can detect deepfakes. As the technology behind creating deepfake videos has advanced, so too have efforts to develop tools that identify and counteract them. Researchers and companies are working on algorithms designed specifically for detecting manipulated content.

These detection tools often analyze subtle inconsistencies in videos or images that may not be visible to the human eye, such as unnatural facial movements or lighting discrepancies. Examples of such initiatives include Microsoft's Video Authenticator and Facebook's DeepFake Detection Challenge (DFDC) dataset.

While these methods show promise in combating deceptive materials generated through deepfake techniques, it remains an ongoing battle as creators continue refining their methods — making it crucial for detection technologies to evolve alongside advancements within AI algorithms.

Can deepfakes bypass facial recognition?

Deepfakes have the potential to challenge and possibly bypass some facial recognition systems. By creating realistic manipulations of a person's face or even generating entirely new faces using AI algorithms, deepfake technology can introduce uncertainties into biometric authentication processes that rely on unique facial features.

There have been instances where researchers successfully fooled certain types of facial recognition software by employing adversarial machine learning techniques. For example, in a study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2016, researchers used virtual reality (VR) renderings created from social media photos to trick commercial-grade face authentication systems with an alarming success rate.

While this particular case did not involve deepfakes directly, it highlights how advanced image manipulation techniques could potentially undermine security measures based on biometrics — emphasizing the need for ongoing research and development aimed at strengthening defenses against such emerging threats within rapidly evolving landscape artificial intelligence-generated media/content creation.

Is deepfake illegal?

The legality of deepfakes varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific use case. In some countries or states, there are laws that address non-consensual image manipulation, defamation, harassment, or privacy invasion — all of which could be considered as malicious uses of deepfakes.

For example, in the United States, several states have enacted legislation specifically targeting non-consensual pornography created using deepfake technology. At a federal level, in 2020, congress passed the DEEP FAKES Accountability Act to criminalize certain deceptive uses of synthetic media like manipulated videos/images.

However, it's important to note that not all applications/use cases involving this technology are inherently illegal — as long as they don't infringe upon others' rights/privacy or cause harm. Creative/artistic projects may be considered legal provided they comply with relevant regulations and ethical guidelines within their respective jurisdictions.

A human and an AI interface, portrayed side by side, reflect the merging of human traits with advanced deepfake technology. Photograph: Geralt via Pixabay.

What states have banned deepfakes?

Several states in the United States have enacted legislation to address nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes, with varying degrees of penalties and enforcement mechanisms. Some examples include:

  1. Hawaii, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming: In these states, creating nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes is considered a criminal violation.
  2. New York and California: The laws in these two states allow victims to bring civil suits against perpetrators but do not impose criminal penalties for such actions.
  3. Minnesota: This state has recently passed a law outlining both criminal and civil penalties for those involved in creating malicious or harmful deepfake content.

It's important to note that legal frameworks addressing this issue are continually evolving as lawmakers grapple with the rapid advancements in technology — making it crucial always to stay informed about current regulations within one's jurisdiction before engaging with any form of artificial intelligence-generated media/content creation.

Can you sue someone for making a deepfake of you?

Yes, in certain jurisdictions, it is possible to sue someone for creating a deepfake of you without your consent. Depending on the specific circumstances and the harm caused by the deepfake, legal avenues such as defamation lawsuits or invasion of privacy claims may be pursued.

In some states within the United States like New York and California, victims can bring civil suits against perpetrators who create nonconsensual pornographic deepfakes. The laws in these states allow individuals to seek damages for any emotional distress or reputational harm they might have suffered due to malicious use of their likeness.

However, legal frameworks addressing this issue vary across different countries/regions — making it crucial always to consult with an attorney familiar with relevant regulations and guidelines within one's jurisdiction before taking any action against those involved in unauthorized AI-generated media/content creation.

What are the malicious uses of deepfake?

One common malicious use of deepfakes is creating non-consensual pornographic content. Perpetrators superimpose someone's face onto explicit material without their consent — causing significant harm to the victim's reputation and mental well-being.

Another harmful application involves spreading misinformation or disinformation through manipulated videos or audio clips. Deepfakes can be used to fabricate statements by public figures like politicians or celebrities — potentially influencing public opinion, damaging reputations, or even swaying election outcomes.

Additionally, deepfakes pose a threat in areas such as identity theft and fraud. Cybercriminals could create convincing fake video/audio evidence for blackmail purposes, impersonate executives for financial gain via "deepfake voice phishing", or deceive security systems relying on facial recognition technology. 

These examples highlight how this powerful tool may be weaponized when placed into the wrong hands — emphasizing importance vigilance/regulation within the rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence-generated content creation.

Is deepfake a cybercrime?

Deepfakes can be considered a form of cybercrime when they are used maliciously or with harmful intent, such as creating non-consensual pornographic content, spreading misinformation, committing fraud, or engaging in identity theft. In these cases, the use of deepfake technology becomes an unethical and potentially illegal act.

However, it's essential to differentiate between malicious uses of deepfakes and legitimate applications that may involve creative/artistic projects without any intention to cause harm — which wouldn't typically fall under the category "cybercrime."

As legal frameworks continue evolving worldwide, lawmakers work towards establishing clear definitions/guidelines addressing this rapidly advancing technology within their respective jurisdictions.

A hooded figure holding a digital pad of red binary code, symbolizing the secretive creation of deepfakes. Photograph: Geralt via Pixabay.

Can you use deepfake for video calls?

Yes, from a technical standpoint, it is possible to use deepfake technology during video calls. Various applications and software tools enable users to manipulate their appearance or even impersonate someone else by overlaying a different face onto their own in real-time.

Some programs integrate with popular video conferencing platforms or webcam utilities directly. Others might require additional setup steps like configuring virtual cameras that stream the manipulated output. These solutions often employ advanced AI algorithms capable of adapting facial expressions and movements on-the-fly for seamless integration into live conversations.

The rapid development of deep learning techniques has made real-time face-swapping more accessible than ever before — allowing individuals to experiment with altering appearances during video chats using readily available resources/software options.

A notable example of deepfake-like technology being used in a mainstream platform is Instagram's face filters. These augmented reality (AR) filters, powered by AI and computer vision algorithms, allow users to modify their appearance during video calls or live streams within the app itself. Users can choose from various effects such as makeup enhancements, animal features, or even celebrity impersonations.

While not precisely deepfakes per se, these AR-powered face filters showcase how real-time facial manipulation has become more accessible and integrated into popular social media platforms.

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