Deepfakes Are Deeply Troubling
November 25, 2019
Daily Pnut will not be publishing a newsletter on Thursday and Friday. We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” – Epicurus
Deepfakes Are Deeply Troubling
Not quite two years ago someone began using artificial intelligence technology to graft the heads of celebrities onto nude bodies in pornographic videos. The “grafter(s)” called themselves “deepfakes.” The term entered the popular lexicon and soon became synonymous with any fake video doctored with cutting-edge AI.
The ability to manipulate photos and videos or to create fake images from scratch, using computer software like Adobe Photoshop or After Effects, has been around for years. But the process was usually painstakingly slow and required some expertise. Now AI technologies are streamlining the process, reducing the cost, time and skill needed to doctor images. AI systems are learning on their own how to build fake images by analyzing thousands of real images. Given the tools to bypass that part of the workload once left to trained technicians, many more people are able to create a lot more fake stuff.
The effect such disinformation could have on the lead up to the 2020 election is monumentally worrisome. AI’s ability to create manufactured videos is still fairly new, but evolving rapidly. Both Google and Facebook have partnered with academics to help develop detection tools to automatically identify and remove deepfakes, but researchers are being challenged to keep up.
According to the founder of a Canadian company that specializes in machine learning, the fight against deepfakes and other forms of online disinformation “will require nearly constant reinvention.” And as one expert reminds us: “Even with current technology, it is hard for some people to tell what is real and what is not.”
- How Will We Outsmart A.I. Liars? For better and worse, humans are only improving their ability to deceive themselves with technology. (NYT, $)
- A celebrity deepfake roundtable with Tom Cruise and Jeff Goldblum is as weird as it sounds (The Verge)
A Literal Protest Vote
- Almost three million people — more than 71 percent of the electorate – turned out Sunday to vote for Hong Kong’s district councilors, who are akin to community representatives. District elections are normally low-key affairs, but this time around they are widely seen as a referendum on popular support for the months-long anti-government protests.
- One pro-democracy advocate, who had been disqualified from running for a seat, said: “Since the civil unrest and protest movement began in June, today is the only institution and method to express our discontent to Beijing.” (NPR)
- Hong Kong elections: Pro-democracy groups makes big gains (BBC)
- ‘Allow no escapes’: leak exposes reality of China’s vast prison camp network (Guardian) & Why You Should Think About Uighurs The Next Time You Put On Shoes (NPR)
- Australia probes ‘deeply disturbing’ allegations of Chinese political interference (Reuters)
To Go Green, You Must First Go Red
- In response to President Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, making the US the first and only nation to back out of the 200-nation deal to combat climate change, some of the world’s most vulnerable countries are turning to China for help. The diplomatic reconfiguration in the region has opened up a new front in the battle for influence between China and the US and its allies.
- In an email to NPR, officials from the Solomon Islands wrote: “The show of lack of leadership by the current U.S. government in the fight against climate change is very discouraging not only to us but to all the low-lying island nations of the Pacific. Although China is one of the biggest CO2 emitters, it is showing leadership and commitment to help lead our global efforts against [climate change].” (NPR)
Yearning Leads To Burning
- In early November a 22-year-old man sat in front of the student center at a university in Lyon France and posted his despair on Facebook: “I accuse Macron, Hollande, Sarkozy and the European Union of having killed me by creating uncertainties for the future of all.”
- He then set himself on fire. He was burned over 90 percent of his body but didn’t die; as of last week he remained in an induced coma. His act inspired thousands of students across the country to protest against student financial insecurity, demanding a reevaluation of university tuition and changes to scholarships, more student housing, and better health services on campuses. (NYT)
Additional World News
- Pakistan Blames India for Its Air Pollution. Its Citizens Disagree: Pakistan’s minister for climate change blames India for toxic smog. But residents of Lahore, one of the world’s most polluted cities, blame their country’s government. (NYT, $)
- Egypt raids one of its last independent news publications, and detains some of its journalists (CNN)
- Greenland Is Not For Sale. But It Has The Rare Earth Minerals America Wants (NPR)
- Amid Protests, Colombia’s Capital Placed Under Curfew (NPR)
- At least 20 migrants feared dead after boat capsizes near Lampedusa: Five reported dead and 149 rescued from vessel attempting to carry group from Libya to Europe (Guardian)
- As Venezuela’s economy struggles, some of its citizens turn to a lucrative gig: Cybercrime – Hacking efforts are particularly lucrative for Venezuelans as they are sold for cryptocurrency, a welcome alternative to the country’s own currency, which has endured rapid inflation. (NBC)
A New Candidate Bloom(berg)s
- Former Democratic New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg officially threw his hat into the ring Sunday. The billionaire explained his candidacy on his campaign website: “I’m running for president to defeat Donald Trump and rebuild America. We cannot afford four more years of President Trump’s reckless and unethical actions.”
- Bloomberg is a late entry into an already crowded field, apparently because he isn’t convinced any of the other double digit number of candidates can defeat Trump. Bloomberg, a moderate, will likely be siphoning votes away from Joe Biden, who has been slipping in Iowa polling and is struggling with fundraising.
- Bloomberg is spending his own money in the race — a lot of it. For starters, at least $37 million has been earmarked for television ads over the next two weeks. (CNN)
The King Of Oversight VS American Oversight
- The State Department complied at the last minute with a court order to turn over internal documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine. Nearly 100 pages of records were produced late Friday night in response to a lawsuit filed by American Oversight.
- The documents included emails that confirmed multiple contacts in March 2019 between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
- At least one of the phone calls between Pompeo and Giuliani was facilitated by Trump’s personal assistant Madeleine Westerhout. Giuliani was urging Ukraine to investigate Trump’s Democratic rivals, and also urging the ouster of a respected American ambassador to Ukraine, staunch anti-corruption advocate Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was summarily removed from her post in April on Pompeo’s orders. (American Oversight, NYT)
- Giuliani’s associates boasted of US government ties, Ukraine gas executive says (CNN)
- Schiff says House will move forward with impeachment inquiry after ‘overwhelming’ evidence from hearings (NBC)
Additional USA News
- Navy Secretary forced out after Trump’s war crimes intervention causes division and chaos in military (CNN)
- Vice President Pence Makes Surprise Visit To Iraq (NPR)
- U.S. Commander Warns of Iranian Attack in Middle East (NYT, $) & How street protests across Middle East threaten Iran’s power (Guardian)
- Ivanka Trump defends father with fake impeachment quote (Guardian)
- US supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalised with fever (Guardian)
- Utilities Targeted in Cyberattacks Identified: Hackers homed in on smaller electricity providers in proximity to critical infrastructure; FBI investigating (WSJ, $)
Don’t Take The Past For Granite
- NASA and the European Space Agency (Esa) are planning to create and send robot rovers to Mars in order to collect rock samples and bring them back to Earth. The main goal of the new mission is to potentially find evidence of life on Mars and further space exploration programs in Europe and the United States.
- The mission will start by using the new NASA Mars 2020 rover, which is set to land on Mars in early 2021. After collecting samples, the rover will leave the cache at a pickup destination, where the Esa’s “fetch rover” will load the samples into canisters that are taken into orbit and captured by the Earth-return orbiter, which then brings the cannisters back to Earth and drops them off in the Utah desert.
- The mission will be extraordinarily difficult due to the large series of complex maneuvers required, but if successful may be the key to finding past life on Mars.
- Cybertruck: Tesla truck gets 150,000 orders despite launch gaffe (BBC)
- Imagination is ancient: Our imaginative life today has access to the pre-linguistic, ancestral mind: rich in imagery, emotions and associations (Aeon)
- Can you eat meat without damaging the environment? (BBC)
- Malaysia’s last known Sumatran rhino dies (BBC)
- Can Babies Learn to Love Vegetables? No diet has been more obsessively studied, more fiercely controlled, or more anxiously stage-managed than baby food. Yet we still get it wrong. (New Yorker, $) & Florida couple arrested for manslaughter after 18-month-old son dies of malnourishment (WaPo, $)
RECOMMENDED FOR YOU