Barack Obama Warns Ottawa Audience About Dangers Of DeepFake Technology


Politicians are now sounding the alarm about the so-called “DeepFake” technology that has been circulating in the news. With this technology, someone can take a picture of any person and create a video of them saying anything.

As expected, the first DeepFake samples to go viral were fabricated videos of celebrities and politicians. Former President Barack Obama was the subject of a DeepFake video as early as 2017.

Initially, the fakes were seen as a novel source of entertainment or an impressive trick. However, as the technology has advanced, experts are becoming more concerned about its implications for politics.

During a speech in Ottawa last Friday, the former president warned his audience about the new technology.

“People can duplicate me speaking and saying anything. And it sounds like me and it looks like I’m saying it — and it’s a complete fabrication. The marketplace of ideas that is the basis of our democratic practice has difficulty working if we don’t have some common baseline of what’s true and what’s not,” Obama said.

Obama ottawa deepfake
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Canadian Tire Centre at an event hosted by Ottawa-based think tank Canada 2020 on May 31, 2019. Photo Credit: Canada 2020

How DeepFake Works

This technology works using machine-learning algorithms that analyze archives of video and audio recordings to create convincing fabrications.

The technology is growing more advanced and convincing by the day. At first, DeepFake was very crude and rudimentary, but now, AI has been able to achieve nearly perfect replication. As our previous coverage noted, there have been many iterations of this technology in the past few years.

Samsung’s currently unnamed DeepFake algorithm is the most advanced and powerful of these offerings. Samsung’s technology can even create realistic, talking fabrications of classic paintings like the Mona Lisa.

Mona lisa deepfake

Upcoming House Intelligence Panel

Lawmakers have become so concerned about the technology that they have called an emergency meeting to discuss its regulation.

During the month of June, The House Intelligence Committee is having a hearing to discuss DeepFake. The committee will be looking into the national security implications associated with this technology.

DeepFake Regulation

Some social media platforms, such as Twitter and Gfycat, announced that they would delete DeepFake content and block its publishers. However, Facebook drew criticism in the media this May, when the company refused to take down a Nancy Pelosi fake.

The pranksters edited the video in a way that made Pelosi appear to slur her words on camera. Whoever, made the Pelosi video did not even use advanced AI to create the fake.

They created the hoax using very basic video editing software to slow the recording. However, if they did have DeepFake capabilities, they could have created even more confusion.

The following is an extremely convincing DeepFake of Barack Obama.

Implications For Elections

The intelligence community’s 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment warned about the implications of DeepFake.

“Adversaries and strategic competitors probably will attempt to use deep fakes or similar machine-learning technologies to create convincing—but false—image, audio, and video files to augment influence campaigns directed against the United States and our allies and partners,” the assessment reads.

In April, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told The Hill that DeepFake could “wreak havoc” during elections.

“Now with DeepFake technology, the Russians can push out fake audio or fake video that is indistinguishable from being real. They can make candidates for office say things they’ve never said,” Schiff said.

Not For The Average User

One concern that critics have voiced about this technology is the possibility of it falling into the hands of hackers. However, experts seem to believe that the barrier to entry for DeepFake will remain high for a while.

Tim Hwang, director of the Harvard-MIT Ethics and Governance of AI Initiative says that this tech is too expensive for the average hacker.

“Nothing suggests to me that you’ll just turnkey use this for generating DeepFakes at home. Not in the short-term, medium-term, or even the long-term,” Hwang says.

However, large corporations and state-level actors using this technology is not a comforting prospect either. It is very possible that governments could use DeepFake videos to convince its citizens to go to war. Likewise, these same forces can use these fakes to change the outcome of elections, and perhaps even history.

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