Can blockchain save us from deepfakes?

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As a speaker at Ethereal Virtual Summit gave her presentation today on deepfakes—AI-generated fake videos—suddenly, the Youtube livestream went dark. Her talk featured a screenshot of a deepfake video, which Youtube’s algorithms apparently didn’t like.  

Here is the irony: Kathryn Harrison, as the founder of DeepTrust Alliance, a coalition fighting against digital misinformation, is actually on a mission to fight deepfakes. That was the entire point of her talk. That, and how blockchain could help. 

“Wow!” Harrison tweeted afterward. “My first time as a BANNED speaker.” 

But therein lies the problem with deepfakes. It’s getting harder to differentiate between what is real and what’s fake. And social media is still getting up to speed in spotting them accurately. 

Harrison, who was formerly the director of global product management for IBM Blockchain, believes blockchain can help, because it is immutable and provides a source of trust.  

Deepfakes and cheapfakes

Today the biggest problem is “cheapfakes,” which are created with technology like Photoshop, which has been around for a long time, Harrison said. But the future threat is deepfakes, which are becoming easier and cheaper to create.

As Harrison explained it, a deepfake is an image, video, or audio created by AI to have humans doing or saying things they have never done or said. The technology behind it is known as “generative adversarial networks,” or GANs for short. 

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Specifically, GANs is a method of combining existing images with AI to create a wholly new, even more realistic image. Briefly, it will let you superimpose anyone’s face on anyone else’s. “People can use this to discredit actual, true, and real information,” said Harrison.

“You can now download a program that will allow you to actually swap out your face on a live running Zoom or Skype call,” she warned.   

Deepfake porn

Some deepfakes are humorous. Harrison pointed to the example of Elon Musk as Dave in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. “The lights, the colors, the movements of his mouth are perfect,” she said. 

But deepfake comes in more insidious forms. “The fact that this technology exists means that people can use it to discredit actually true and real information,” she said. It makes it easier for criminal syndicates to mimic your identity to access your accounts. Finally, there is the growing problem of extortion and harassment. 

She brought up the famous example of an outspoken journalist in India, Rana Ayyub, whose adversaries stuck her face on a porn video and spread it across the Internet. It got to the point where the UN had to intervene to have the video removed from the public Internet within the Indian community. 

“Deepfake porn is one of the greatest risks,” Harrison said, adding that it accounts for the majority of all deepfakes.

The issue will take time and a coordinated effort to address.  “No single party can solve this problem by itself, she said. “It takes hardware, software, and humans.”

And just as Harrison was about to highlight all the goods and graces of blockchain, the screen when black and the video of her presentation ceased playing on Youtube.