When my freshman high school yearbook came out it featured four of what the school deemed to be the top students of the year. I frowned at the fact that I was not one of the exalted four-pack, and I bitterly cut my own face out of a photo and pasted it over one of the quartet on the cover. “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.” I nodded smugly. I was satisfied with my in-your-face fix.
Not thinking much of it, I carried my yearbook to school the next day to pass around for signatures. Little did I suspect the manner and degree of reception my mid-Pleistocene Photoshop gag would garner. I traded yearbooks with a brother and just like that it was gone. My effen yearbook was effen gone. Gone with a whooosh in a vortex of dust.
It pinballed its way across campus, trading hands as students screamed and howled with laughter at my mug plastered next to the homecoming queen. I was the man! Forget the homecoming king, where is that guy who put his own face on the yearbook? What’s his name? Where’s the book? I wanna see the book…the book…the booooooook!”
It’s good to be king, even if only for a day in high school in Chandler, Arizona. It was a prank. No harm, no foul. Right in, right out, nobody got hurt. I didn’t get any chicks out of the effort, so how had it really even served me? I mean, it’s not like it fooled anyone. Well, maybe just those few with feeble cognitive prowess.
“Dude…you…YOU were the homecoming king and made the cover of the yearbook?”
Jump ahead to the days of the powerful industry standard photo manipulation tool Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop is still the industry standard, pretty much as it was some 30-ish years ago when I first started using it. Why, the name even became a verb in the English language, as well as in a host of others. “Hey, this looks like it was Photoshopped.” We have all heard that before.
The infatuation I have with Photoshop stems from the power to alter a photo with the use of layers. I so thoroughly enjoy the challenge of altering a photo either by taking things out of the photo, or—more difficult—putting things in that were not there at the time of the exposure.
Now, there are two dimensions of photo alterations as I’ve categorized them: altering for the humor value but fooling nobody, and altering to such quality that it fools everybody. I love a good joke, but I am equally enamored with the challenge of trying to fool people with the realistic and believable appearance of my work.
I’ve often contemplated the damage one could do with this same manipulative power, but with video. That time has come. I am now seeing and understanding the damage that can come with that power as it develops. I urge you to watch the following video and challenge you to not exclaim “holy crap” at least once per minute for the duration.
DeepFake is a leading flavor of the technology that facilitates the ability to affect near-total deception in a video. I may have even helped grandfather this sort of technology in my early days of taking the faces of detested persons and superimposing them in…compromising situations. I engaged like minds on the internet to share techniques!
There are, of course, countless innocent applications for this technology, such as the scene in Forest Gump where he is congratulated by POTUS Lyndon Baines Johnson. Stupid me thought, “Holy crap! How did they convince LBJ to cameo in this film?!” Though the technology was different during the filming of that movie, the principle is the same.
But yang brings the other edge of the sword—the opposite of yin. Faces of celebrities are routinely “stolen” and are then swapped with those of performers in pornographic movies. Well, that sure as heck was only a matter of time. I’m not sure at all how I feel about that venture, though I freely admit that it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.
Further exploring the negative implications this technology can have in politics, imagine a campaign rife with slanderous video clips of opposition parties making absurd statements on TV, when in reality they have said nothing of the sort. That can’t happen, right? Have a look at this DeepFake video of POTUS Donald Trump, in which at the end he is depicted with his tongue drooping out of his mouth like a dolt.
— Jeff Wallis (@jeff_wallis) January 9, 2019
Let’s keep the momentum. Now that we see how we can fool our own nation into comporting ourselves like peerless morons, imagine the potentially deadly implications this can have when it comes to relationships between countries. All the dialogue leading to an armed conflict or all-out war could conceivably be faked, and it would become the greatest prank of the century as the first bombs fall.
Coming from the background that I do, hunting human traffickers and disrupting human traffic networks, my mind thinks like this in defense of our children: If celeb faces are swapped in blue movies, what should happen to the person who swaps the faces of children in those same movies? Is that possession of child pornography? Is it the production of child porn? The distribution of child porn?
As our good friend and NEWSREP writer Alex Hollings just said to me regarding this very subject, “Would that satiate a monster’s need or embolden him to pursue the real thing? I’ve got a million questions and no answers.”
I know which way I would want the situation to pan out regarding a DeepFake child porn scenario. But you know, my welterweight head only weighs in at about 88 pounds depending on what time of the month I’m in. It may not result exactly how I want it to once the 100-pound heads in the Supreme Court start banging together and outthinking themselves. Again, it’s only a matter of time.
By almighty God and with honor,
All photos courtesy of the author.
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