Seeing the Round Corners

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February 25, 2020


The Costs and Benefits of deep fake and deep fake videos include several items that warrant review. At this point in time, the most beneficial uses of deep-fakes technology are education, art and autonomy.

Education has taken advantage of the array of opportunities created by deep fake technology, just as it did by increasing access to ordinary video. The downside to this idea is deep-fake technology makes it possible to manufacture videos of historical figures speaking directly to students giving an otherwise unappealing lecture  new lease on life, albeit fraudulent in that the historical figure did not ever do such a lecture.

This writer has a real problem with such as the changes in history being made in history taught to students in this day in age. Writer’s opinion:  Compare history books written by Caucasian writers and those written that include the American Indians who played an incalculable part in United States history and settlement.

The significant problem that arises when creating modified content is protection of intellectual property and the reach of the fair use exemption.

Art is the second area of beneficial uses to be opened up (or spread in a broader way); for example, when an actor/actress dies or is removed from a role before a picture is completed. A combination of live acting and technical wizardry is possible rather than throw away a nearly complete movie or to “demonstrate their point-of-view that words along could not.”

Autonomy is one so-called beneficial use where deep fakes can be used as self-expression – the technology may be used to facilitate an “avatar” experience for individuals for a variety of self-expressive  ends where the individual desires autonomy may be for physical disabilities or other such reasons, even pure and simple happiness.

Deep fake technology offers those willing to do so, a broad spectrum of serious harms:  harm to individuals, organizations via exploitations, sabotage, harm to society, distortion of Democratic discourse manipulations of elections, eroding trust in institutions, exacerbating social division, undermining public safety, diplomacy and journalism, and jeopardizing National Security. Then of course, the most dangerous lies take the form of denials.

Deep-fake exploitation, unfortunately, is inflicted more on women than on men. Two types of most common exploitation:  1) to extract something of value such as stealing people’s identities for financial or some other benefit; and 2) deep-fake technology can be used to exploit people’s sexual identities for the gratification of others.

Sabotage can be used many ways to harm people when competition is involved such as in the workplace, romance, sports, marketplace and politics. Even if a victim has an alibi and can debunk the deep fake video, eliminating it is much harder, if not impossible to remove the deep fake before say an election where timing is key.

Typical in today’s employment world is for the applicant’s social media to be checked for derogatory postings. Business competitors are also at real risk for sabotage when mega-billion/million dollar mergers or bids for government contracts are at stake. 

Harms to society are almost unlimited as people rely less and less on their own ability to verify deep fakes and deep-fake videos. Here are just a few:  distortion of democracy, discourse on important policy questions, manipulation of elections; erosion of trust in significant public and private institutions; enhancement and exploitation of social divisions, harm to military or intelligence operations or capabilities, threats to the economy; and damage to international relations.

Climate change is probably the best example of damage to international relations. Where once there was “agreed upon reality, efforts to solve national and global problems will become enmeshed in needless first-order questions like whether climate change is real.”
Chesney and Citron make this statement:  When basic empirical insights provoke heated contestation (action or process of disputing or arguing), democratic discourse cannot proceed on a sustained basis.”

Manipulation of elections is easier do than most voters realize:  “Deep fakes enable a particularly disturbing form of sabotage by distribution of a damaging, but fake video or audio about a candidate.” Timed appropriately, a candidate has no time to debunk the posting or get it taken down, and thus, the deep fake is open as a tool to sway elections.

Today’s volatile political climate makes the possibilities for erosion of trust in public institutions such as elected and appointed officials, judges, juries, legislators, staffers and agencies nearly unlimited. Subversive groups have quickly learned how to use deep fakes and deep-fake videos in a way as to “accomplish a degree of mobilization-to-action that written words alone could not.” Readers are challenged to recall from memory how many groups from the last two or three year fall into this category.

Public safety also suffes from the threat of deep fakes. Deep fakes such as the report of an incoming ballistic missile was quickly debunked as human error of an employee of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. Was it or was it not?

But far too many deep fakes and deep-fake videos cannot so quickly be debunked. Diplomacy suffers almost the same threat as public safety, but intelligence agencies of the most-capable governments are in the position to make smart decisions about the credibility of such deep fakes, but not all countries are so lucky, and the “bad actors” are well-informed to this scenario to launch from platforms in such countries.

Jeopardizing national security has under its purview military activity, especially combat operations. The Allies in World War II Operation Bodyguard mislead the Axis on the location of D-Day invasion. Fast forward to Afghanistan and Iraq where a similar case may be involved where a military force is occupying or at least operating amidst a civilian population. The locals are caught in the middle.

 Next week, more of the deep fake and deep-fake video recap. 

The reader's comments or questions are always welcome. E-mail me at