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The Rise of the Deepfake and the threat to Democracy

Deepfakes posted on the internet in the past two years, has alarmed many observers, who believe the technology could be used to disgrace politicians and even swing elections. Democracies appear to be gravely threatened by the speed at which disinformation can be created and spread via social media, where the incentive to share the most sensationalist content outweighs the incentive to perform the tiresome work of verification.

Last month, a digitally altered video showing Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, appearing to slur drunkenly through a speech was widely shared on Facebook and YouTube. Trump then posted the clip on Twitter with the caption: “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE”. The video was quickly debunked, but not before it had been viewed millions of times; the president did not delete his tweet, which at the time of writing has received nearly 98,000 likes. Facebook declined to take down the clip, qualifying its decision with the statement: “Once the video was fact-checked as false, we dramatically reduced its distribution.”

In response, a team including the artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe two weeks ago posted a video on Instagram, in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg boasts that he has “total control of billions of people’s stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures”.

In May 2018, a Flemish socialist party called sp.a posted a deepfake video to its Twitter and Facebook pages showing Trump appearing to taunt Belgium for remaining in the Paris climate agreement. The video, which remains on the party’s social media, is a poor forgery: Trump’s hair is curiously soft-focus, while his mouth moves with a Muppet-like elasticity. Indeed, the video concludes with Trump saying: “We all know that climate change is fake, just like this video,” although this sentence alone is not subtitled in Flemish Dutch. (The party declined to comment, but a spokesperson previously told the site Politico that it commissioned the video to “draw attention to the necessity to act on climate change”.)

But James [founder of the YouTube channel derpfakes’ that publishes deepfake videos] believes forgeries may have gone undetected. “The idea that deepfakes have already been used politically isn’t so farfetched,” he says. “It could be the case that deepfakes have already been widely used for propaganda.”

Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Children ‘at risk of robot influence’

Forget peer pressure, future generations are more likely to be influenced by robots, a study suggests.

The research, conducted at the University of Plymouth, found that while adults were not swayed by robots, children were.

The fact that children tended to trust robots without question raised ethical issues as the machines became more pervasive, said researchers.

They called for the robotics community to build in safeguards for children.

Those taking part in the study completed a simple test, known as the Asch paradigm, which involved finding two lines that matched in length.

Known as the conformity experiment, the test has historically found that people tend to agree with their peers even if individually they have given a different answer.

In this case, the peers were robots. When children aged seven to nine were alone in the room, they scored an average of 87% on the test. But when the robots joined them, their scores dropped to 75% on average. Of the wrong answers, 74% matched those of the robots.

“If robots can convince children (but not adults) that false information is true, the implication for the planned commercial exploitation of robots for childminding and teaching is problematic.”

As Google Maps Renames Neighbourhoods, Residents Fume

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut. The peculiar moniker immediately spread digitally, from hotel sites to dating apps to Uber, which all use Google’s map data. The name soon spilled over into the physical world, too. Real-estate listings beckoned prospective tenants to the East Cut. And news organizations referred to the vicinity by that term.

“It’s degrading to the reputation of our area,” said Tad Bogdan, who has lived in the neighborhood for 14 years. In a survey of 271 neighbors that he organized recently, he said, 90 percent disliked the name. The swift rebranding of the roughly 170-year-old district is just one example of how Google Maps has now become the primary arbiter of place names. With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town or neighborhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.