As Fake Videos Become More Realistic, Seeing Shouldn’t Always Be Believing

By David Pierson
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As columnist David Pierson points out, “What used to take a sophisticated Hollywood production company weeks could soon be accomplished in seconds by anyone with a smartphone.” That could be good or bad depending on what the technology is used for.

LOS ANGELES

All it takes is a single selfie.

From that static image, an algorithm can quickly create a moving, lifelike avatar: a video not recorded, but fabricated from whole cloth by software.

With more time, Pinscreen, the Los Angeles startup behind the technology, believes its renderings will become so accurate they will defy reality.

“You won’t be able to tell,” said Hao Li, a leading researcher on computer-generated video at the University of Southern California who founded Pinscreen in 2015. “With further deep-learning advancements, especially on mobile devices, we’ll be able to produce completely photoreal avatars in real time.”

The technology is a triumph of computer science that highlights the gains researchers have made in deep neural networks, complex algorithms that loosely mimic the thinking of the human brain.

Similar breakthroughs in artificial intelligence allowed University of Washington researchers to move President Barack Obama’s mouth to match a made-up script and the chipmaker Nvidia to train computers to imagine what roads would look like in different weather.

What used to take a sophisticated Hollywood production company weeks could soon be accomplished in seconds by anyone with a smartphone.

Not available for a video chat? Use your life-like avatar as a stand-in. Want to insert yourself into a virtual reality game? Upload your picture and have the game render your character.

Those are the benign applications.

Now imagine a phony video of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un announcing a missile strike. The White House would have mere minutes to determine whether the clip was genuine and whether it warranted a retaliatory strike.

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