We’ve seen neural network technology take off in recent years as companies like Google and IBM create ever-smarter machines. Computers can beat humans at Go and spot exoplanets now, but there’s a potentially darker side to this technology. Several months ago, a group of developers released a power face-swapping neural network, which was, of course, used to make porn. Now, Buzzfeed has created a video that shows a more troubling side of this technology. The video shows former President Barack Obama saying things he never said, and it looks surprisingly believable.
The tool is known as FakeApp, but the videos are usually called “Deepfakes” because that’s the handle used by the original developer on Reddit. You can download the code freely all over the internet, but it’s not easy to set up — you need to configure Nvidia’s CUDA framework to run the FakeApp TensorFlow code, so the app requires a GeForce GPU. The video you want to alter has to be split into individual frames, and you need a large number of high-resolution photos of the face you want to insert. In the case of Obama, there are plenty of photos online that can be used to generate a model.
Whereas past Deepfakes have been used to swap faces (often to make fake celebrity porn), the video created by Buzzfeed takes a different approach. The source video is Obama making a public address, and the face shown in the final version is also mostly Obama. The goal was not to make Obama look like someone else, but to make it look like he was saying things he never said.
In the video above, Obama is voiced by Jordan Peele, who does a passable impersonation. Having Peele do the voice gets the video more attention, but there are probably voice actors who could do an even better job. Buzzfeed started by pasting Peele’s mouth over top of Obama’s, and then replaced Obama’s jawline to match the mouth movements. Rendering took 56 hours for a minute-long video.
That’s how Buzzfeed made it sound like Obama voiced support for Black Panther’s Killmonger and insulted President Trump. The point of the video is not to create “fake news,” but to warn about the future of fake news. Eventually, it won’t just be words written on the internet, but believable videos conjured up inside a computer.
The video produced by Buzzfeed does look a little strange, but this technology is still very new. It didn’t require any advanced hardware or expensive software to produce, either. We could see a lot more of this in the future, and it could be hard to spot. As the fake Obama says at the end of the video, “Stay woke.”
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