If, like me, you’ve spent any significant period of time on social media over the last week, you’ve likely seen ‘deepfake Tom Cruise’ — a series of videos first created on TikTok that depict Cruise playing golf, performing magic and talking directly to the camera. Accept they’re not Tom Cruise; they’re an anonymous person superimposing Tom Cruise’s face onto their own; surpassing the uncanny valley and creating something frighteningly familiar and accurate.
The Cruise videos have attracted millions of views on social media, but they’re certainly not the first time this technology has been utilised. Jordan Peele used the technology three years ago to create a deepfake of Obama that was almost indistinguishable from the real version. Meanwhile, similar digital manipulation technology was used to recreate the late Paul Walker in 2015’s ‘Furious 7’. Such technology has also been alarmingly used to ‘recreate’ a victim of gun violence so he could deliver a message on gun control.
In the limited time period this technology has existed, it has improved at alarming speed and has become increasingly accessible; face-swapping apps have made it easy for anyone to manipulate media and — with the continuing improvements in such technology — a future where nearly anyone could create, in a matter of minutes, an alternate reality indistinguishable from actual reality seems more likely than ever.
That’s part of what makes the Cruise video so alarming; it isn’t even the highest quality deepfake possible, yet to the naked eye, it’s near-impossible to tell the difference between this fiction and fact.
The dangers raised by the rise of this technology have attracted the attention of Senators, academics and military officials alike, but experts warn the law is failing to catch up with the rapid and continuous advancements made in this area.
Much has been made of the dystopian possibility that it will become increasingly easy to make public official ‘say’ and ‘do’ things that they never really did, but there’s also the equally — if not more so — alarming possibility that ‘deepfake’ technology will completely undermine the credibility of genuinely true acts. ‘Fake news’ has already frayed our fragile relationship with the truth, as has the ability of celebrities and politicians to claim they were ‘hacked’ as soon as any incriminating online posts surface. But what if we’re on the cusp on entering a world where we’re no longer able to trust even our own eyes and ears?
Above everything else, videos have — since their invention — been the bedrock of objective reality; the have confirmed beyond all reasonable doubt major historical events; be it the moon-landing, the Holocaust or 9/11. On a more day-to-day level, they are invaluable tools to scrutinise and hold to account politicians; they provide an account of past statements that we can hold up when politicians go against their promises.
Every Presidential election in history has seen past videos/audio play a consequential role in the end result; such as the 2016 ‘Access Hollywood’ tape. If these moments can suddenly be *credibly* disputed, our ability to hold politicians to account withers. In a hyper-partisan era like ours, what is and isn’t true would become (to the extent that it hasn’t already) just another red v blue issue.
Objective reality would cease to exist.