New advancements in audio and visual technologies may signal a change in the production of fake news that blurs the boundary between the real and fake in unprecedented and indecipherable ways.
A joint team from Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg have developed a programme that allows users to manipulate the facial expressions of somebody speaking in a video. It works by tracking the expressions of a source actor which is then digitally transposed, in real time, onto the target person in the video. Advancements in video manipulation tools have also come hand in hand with breakthroughs in digital actor technology where simulations are becoming increasingly lifelike (such as the use of CG to bring back dead actors in the new Star Wars film).
Audio technology has also seen a great deal of parallel progress. Adobe are working on audio creation software, Voco, that has been nicknamed “Photoshop for audio”. The software is able to detect the distinct units of sounds that make up an individual’s voice after processing 10 to 20 minutes of recorded speech. Users are then able to type out words or sentences which are then read out by a computer-generated voice that is surprisingly convincing.
Consisting of tweets and articles, the most recent manifestation of fake news that became a defining factor of the 2016 US presidential election was primarily text based. Even so it has been surprisingly effective as people have found it difficult to decipher what is true or false (often reading stuff to affirm their world views). However, it is not farfetched to believe that these new visual and audio tools could lead to increasingly sophisticated and (harder to decipher) fake news which could have important geopolitical consequences.
For instance the potential weaponisation of false information is particularly disconcerting. If these tools become increasingly sophisticated but accessible to the general public, it is not hard to imagine future political groups or opponents creating videos to spark international crises. What would happen if a fake video or audio of and important political figure advocating something like military or covert intervention? With the leaked story travelling at lightning speeds across various social media platforms, the administration would have very little time to respond and have a limited window to avoid international crisis. This has already been documented with a Pakistani Military officer threatening nuclear war over a false quote from an Israeli minister.
There is also concern about third parties using false information to interfere with democratic processes such as elections. The murky ties between Russia and the Trump administration have been under increasing scrutiny over the past few months and the potential of Russian sponsored fake news have cast a shadow over the upcoming elections in France and Germany.