Deepfake technology could soon give anybody with a computer or phone the power of a Hollywood special effects department. In the next several years, technologists predict we will all be able to create photo-realistic videos and sound recordings using software enabled by artificial intelligence. That means instead of using cameras and microphones, next-generation “synthetic media” will be completely generated by computers.
Bill Whitaker looks at the state of the art today and volunteers as a guinea pig in an amazing deepfake transformation in which he becomes 30 years younger. The story will be broadcast on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, October 10 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
Nina Schick, a London-based researcher and political consultant was advising world leaders on Russian disinformation and election security when she first came across deepfakes. They have only gotten better since then.
“The incredible thing about deepfakes and synthetic media is the pace of acceleration when it comes to the technology,” Schick says. “By five to seven years, we are basically looking at a trajectory where any single creator — so a YouTuber, a TikToker — will be able to create the same level of visual effects that is only accessible to the most well-resourced Hollywood studio today.”
“It is without a doubt one of the most important revolutions in the future of human communication and perception. I would say it’s analogous to the birth of the internet,” Schick tells Whitaker. “Entire industries are going to be transformed, because which industry doesn’t need rich media to communicate?”
Whitaker spoke with companies hoping to hone and harness this technology in ways they believe will remake the entertainment industry. Could real actors be replaced? On the contrary, says Thomas Graham, co-founder of Metaphysic, the technology could be used to make actors immortal.
“I think it is a great thing if you’re a well-known actor today because you may be able to let somebody collect data for you to create a version of yourself in the future where you could be acting in movies after you have deceased,” Graham says. “Or you could be the director, directing your younger self in a movie or something like that.”
The technology could also be used for ill-purposes. Currently, the majority of deepfakes consist of pornography, in which women’s faces – often celebrities – are superimposed on to porn videos. But it’s also being used for legitimate purposes, such as creating new, never-before-filmed versions of commercials, without the actors having to go back to the studio.
So far, deepfakes have not been used to disrupt a national election in the U.S. But the FBI says synthetic media will almost certainly be used by malicious actors for cyber and foreign influence operations in the next 12-18 months. In March of this year, the Bureau put out a notification warning “synthetic content” had been used in Russian and Chinese foreign influence campaigns.
Schick points out that the technology is “neutral” and believes any malicious manipulation of it is the price of progress.
“So when everybody is a producer of synthetic-made content, yes, it will be weaponized by bad actors,” she tells Whitaker. “But there will be tremendous opportunities that come our way as well.”