Spying a copy: Deepfake’s effect on a culture

For the longest time, I have wanted to look like Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider videogame series (or any Tomb Raider, really). Easily one of the most iconic characters in the gaming industry, Lara is defined by her impressive acrobatics, alluring figure and twin-pistol-shooting finesse. Unfortunately, I am not British in the least (proud quarter-Filipino here) and not nearly as well-endowed, and therefore have no hope of emulating such a renowned zombie-fighting, motorcycle-riding archeologist. 

However, thanks to the wondrous possibilities of deepfake, I can now fulfill my dream in real time — digitally. 

Sarcasm and wishful thinking aside, deepfake is a rapidly progressing form of artificial intelligence that digitally alters images and videos to create a false reality. The Guardian said of this, “The 21st century’s answer to photoshopping, deepfakes use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make images of fake events, hence the name deepfake. … Audio can be deepfaked too, to create ‘voice skins’ or ‘voice clones’ of public figures.” 

This tool seeks to emulate reality, but in doing so creates a warped reality wrapped up in a plethora of ethical and moral implications. Deepfake is wish fulfillment in one of the worst ways possible. Aside from aiding porn companies in ramping up views on a particular video, it also creates a uniquely abhorrent opportunity for revenge. 

Rolling Stone Magazine recently released an article on Democratic U.S. representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her personal traumatic experiences with deepfake. Ocasio-Cortez is known for being rather outspoken and has gained quite a few enemies in recent years. Speaking of pornographic deepfake images of herself found on X (Twitter, formerly), Ocasio-Cortez said, “There’s a shock to seeing images of yourself that someone could think are real. … As a survivor of physical sexual assault, it adds a level of dysregulation.” 

In addition to having remarkably effective revenge capabilities, creating deepfakes also has a great bearing on our current perception of truth.  Of the potential dangers in a judicial context, CNBC said, “Amid technological evolutions like OpenAI’s recent release of text-to-video generative AI software Sora, the potential for deepfakes in the courtroom has become not just plausible, but — according to experts — likely.”  Other concerns raised by CNBC were the potential loss of the oath of impartiality and accuracy, AI reporting errors (e.g., loss of evidence) and the falsification of evidence. 

On a lighter note, deepfake can be relatively harmless in nature. Back in 2019, Ollie of the YouTube channel, “Jolly,” posted an episode wherein he revealed a deepfake video as a present to the channel co-host, Josh. The video contained various clips of music videos, advertisements, and memes with popular actresses wearing Josh’s face instead of their own. Josh, shocked, jokingly remarked, “Ok, technology just needs to stop. We don’t need to (have) any more advancements. That is worrying enough.”  

Another example of this is YouTuber EZRyderX47’s deepfake of Tom Holland’s face replacing that of Michael J. Fox’s and Robert Downey Jr.’s face replacing Christopher Lloyd’s in a scene from “Back to the Future.” This is one of the most popular deepfakes, accumulating over 11 million views on YouTube.  

Stealing someone’s face, or likeness, for personal pleasure or gain is very clearly wrong. Perhaps supplanting your own face onto a different person’s body has less egregious ethical ramifications, but it still can be seen as an act of envy, selfishness or deception. 

As with all rapidly advancing AI, it is important that we steward these opportunities well and critically think through the long-term and short-term effects of our actions. What may seem harmless and neutral at first can turn ruthless and heartless with a few clicks. Deepfake alters reality and is founded on deception; it can be strongly argued that this is inherently dubious. Of course, ethics are continuously being defined and redefined and change from culture to culture and context to context, and there are very specific contexts in which perhaps using deepfake could be ethical (e.g., military tactics), but the clear perverted nature of what is often created with this tool is unarguable. 

My hopes of ever being or looking like Lara Croft (online or in person) may be dashed, but my conscience is kept intact, and that’s what must be weighed in these contexts. 

Glen is the social media and website manager for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on X

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