Photography

What the History of ‘Spirit Photography’ Portends for the Future of Deepfake Videos – Smithsonian

Summary

Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

Two years ago, Noelle Martin discovered someone had made a “deepfake” video about her. Martin is a 26-year-old Australian law graduate who has lobbied governments and corporations to take action against the online harassment of women. Now, someone on the internet had decided to attack her via a technique that uses artificial intelligence to swap one person’s face onto another’s body. 

Experts studying …….

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Illustration by Kotryna Zukauskaite

Two years ago, Noelle Martin discovered someone had made a “deepfake” video about her. Martin is a 26-year-old Australian law graduate who has lobbied governments and corporations to take action against the online harassment of women. Now, someone on the internet had decided to attack her via a technique that uses artificial intelligence to swap one person’s face onto another’s body. 

Experts studying this phenomenon have found that well over 90 percent of deepfake videos involve faces swapped into pornographic scenes—the vast majority being women, most often celebrities but also politicians, activists or non-famous women. That’s what someone had done with Martin. The video, she figured, was an attempt to get her to stop her advocacy work by shaming her. “It was absolutely weaponized,” she told me recently. When she saw the video circulating online, she felt a stab of fury: “The audacity of these people to do that to me,” she said. She also couldn’t help wondering: Would people who saw it actually believe it was her? 

Deepfake videos present an unsettling new phase in the evolution of media. Manipulating video used to be wildly expensive, the province of special-effects masters. But new AI technology has made it much easier. Indeed, one commonly used piece of software for doing it—which uses a “deep learning” form of artificial intelligence, hence the “deep” in deepfakes—was released anonymously online for free in 2018. 

In December 2020, Sensity, a fraud-detection firm, found 85,047 deepfake videos circulating online, a number that had been roughly doubling every six months; there are now likely hundreds of thousands in existence. Some are harmless—Nicolas Cage’s face swapped into scenes from movies he wasn’t in, say. But “the majority of deepfakes created by experts are malicious,” says Giorgio Patrini, Sensity’s CEO.

Many observers worry that deepfakes could become a major threat in politics, used to humiliate political figures and advocates like Martin or even make them appear to say things they never said. “What it could do to diplomacy and democracy—we’re holding our breath,” says Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law. It’s an unsettling moment, where our ability to discern what’s real feels newly imperiled.

In fact, these anxieties echo the earliest days of photography. Then, as now, through cutting-edge fakery, major public figures were counterfeited, and questions emerged about whether a powerful new technology made it impossible to trust what you saw.


In one sense, photo manipulation began as soon as photography did. Early image-capturing technologies were crude—images had no color, and slow shutter speeds washed out details, such that skies, for example, appeared “ghastly, lifeless,” one photographer complained.

So photographers from the get-go were working hard to alter images. They would paint on colors, or enhance details by drawing on an image with ink and paint. …….

Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/history-spirit-photography-future-deepfake-videos-180979010/