Video Eats Itself

Motherboard has a disconcerting article up today about Reddit communities that are using machine learning software to merge videos into fake but reasonably convincing pornography of celebrities.

Part of what's alarming about the report is that the tools they're using are becoming increasingly accessible. Accessibility will likely translate into a growing pool of users, and as that user base grows, it's reasonable to expect a geometric increase in the incidence of people who were inserted into videos without their permission or even knowledge.

There's no particular reason we should expect the practice to stop with celebrities. They're at especial risk, perhaps, due to their visibility and the ready availability of video materials to draw from. Even for non-celebrities, though, social media has induced many of us to make publicly-available image archives of ourselves. In principle, there's no particular reason that someone wishing to generate more hybrid pornography couldn't draw from those.

Nor do practical applications stop with fake pornography. As others have pointed out, it's almost inevitable that some will use the technology to generate fake news, as well. Hostile state actors could use it to create kompromat of their political rivals. In the already intense disinformation environment of modern politics, social media bots could be used to disseminate falsified video of politicians to audiences of millions.

That conjures up a truly dystopian vision of the future, and in the short term, at least, I think we're in for some destabilizing episodes. Probably, though, the long term effect will be a precipitous change in the public's relationship to video as a record of near contemporaneous events. The more aggressively faceswapped video is deployed to betray people's trust, the less we'll trust video to establish the facts. And as it becomes easier to misuse people's likenesses with video modification technology, more and more people will seek protection in a legal regimen that is presently waiting to be born.