What is a deepfake?

February 4, 2019

You’re probably familiar with the viral video series called “Bad Lip Reading,” where people ranging from the president of the United States to the Super Bowl MVP “say” some of the craziest things. These video dubs have the audio replaced and then aligned with the lip motion of the speaker—and are obviously fake.

But there is a newer AI technology that allows someone to not only replace the voice of the speaker but alter their facial characteristics in order to make them say whatever you want. While it might make for a funny YouTube video to share online, the potential use of this new technology will have disturbing and profound effects on society in the years to come.

What is a deepfake?

A deepfake is a video of someone saying and maybe even doing things that they never did in reality. These fake videos are created on computers using AI technology that allows the creator to use existing footage of an individual. These videos can be created by anyone who has access to the right computers, software, and knowledge. They are incredibly realistic and pose a real threat to society.

In April 2018, actor and producer Jordan Peele created a deepfake of former President Obama. It initially fooled a number of viewers online until Peele revealed the power of this technology. Many in government and the intelligence community are deeply worried about how it will be abused. As of today, we still don’t even have the ability to detect these fake videos, but developers are working furiously to design detection tools, which can be complicated. The speed at which our society operates means that a deepfake may do lasting and irreversible damage before it’s exposed.

How does it work?

Deepfake technology has been around for a number of years, but the recent advances have led to concern. Apple’s Memoji technology and Snapchat’s infamous video filters use a similar type of technology. These rudimentary consumer versions are designed to make you look like a talking robot, give you dog ears, or even swap faces with your friends. This technology has also been used for years in the production of celebrity sex tapes.

The name deepfake comes from the popular use of “deep” with artificial intelligence, which means that something is extremely complex, as opposed to shallow or simple. To create a deepfake, video content of one subject is analyzed and mapped by a form of artificial intelligence that utilizes a machine-learning technique called a recurrent neural network. A digital map is made of the subject’s face, mouth, and other defining features. The body of the subject may also be included, which allows the computer to place a person in a different place as well as changing what they say. Finally, a map of the new audio and video is created.

Then, an AI meshes the content together to make a hyper-realistic fake video. When the meshing occurs, the computer automatically blends facial features, light, and other elements to match the new and old content. As computers and algorithms become more sophisticated and powerful, it will become next to impossible to detect a fake video. This will inevitably lead to a deeper mistrust in the media we consume.

How might a deepfake affect our society?

Given the viral and unverifiable nature of content shared on social media, deepfake technology has the potential to wreak havoc on societal order and even disrupt international relations. Imagine a scenario where you are on social media and come across a video that many of your friends have shared. You click on the video and see the president declaring a national emergency or an international crisis.

Given the algorithmic nature and structure of our society, cable news channels decide to announce the “breaking news,” the stock market reacts immediately, and an already divided society turns on itself, assigning blame to someone who never said the things purported in the video. This doesn’t take into account what our allies and enemies across the world would begin to think or how they may prepare to engage, either. These fake videos could disrupt our entire society and world within minutes. While this scenario might seem like the plot of the latest action movie, deepfakes present this kind of a threat.

What do we do about them?

We are not well prepared as a society for the potential misuse of deepfake technology. Though it has yet to been used in a malicious way with widespread consequences, we don’t have the correct preparations in place for the possibility. In addition to lacking the resources to detect the videos, the U.S. doesn’t have legislation on the state or federal level to prosecute those using this technology with the intentions of disrupting society.

The day before the government shutdown in December 2018, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) introduced a bill that would criminalize the malicious creation and distribution of these fake videos. Sasse told Axios that these videos “can be tailor-made to drive Americans apart and pour gasoline on just about any culture war fire.” Other lawmakers such as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and House Oversight Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are also considering legislation on this controversial and potentially dangerous technology.

In addition, Bill A081155 was filed by the New York State Assembly last May and was the first of its kind introduced at the state level, but not without pushback from entertainment companies that declared the bill to be overreaching and hurtful to the creative storytelling industry that uses this technology in film production.

How should Christians prepare for this technology?

First, we should be aware of the subtle and often hidden dangers that rise out of technological development. Although technology is a gift from God that can be used in ways that honor him and help us love our neighbors, we need to be cognizant that these tools can and will be used in ways that seek to defame or denigrate our fellow image-bearers. We shouldn’t pursue technological innovation for innovation’s sake, but as a way of living out our calling by God to take dominion and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28).

We are accountable to God for the ways that we steward the gifts he has given us and for the ways that we love our neighbors. There will always be ways to misuse and abuse technological developments, but being aware of these issues now can allow us to combat the rise of deepfakes and fake news. We have a responsibility to understand these developments in order to love our neighbors and allow our society to flourish in the pursuit of truth.

Second, Christians should pursue truth in all aspects of our life and test the validity of something before we share it online or in our communities. In our world of constant connectivity, we should think twice before sharing or commenting on a video that we see online. Given the recent explosion of fake news sites and the abuse of social media, Christians need to be wise about how we use our voice online, especially in light of how things can be taken out of context or edited to fit a political agenda.

Even though videos like the one of the Covington Catholic High School boys and Native American protestors at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial were not deepfakes, the explosion of anger and hatred online after the videos released did lasting damage to the credibility of news sources and the livelihoods of all of those involved. In a world of deepfakes, this danger will only be escalated. We must heed James’ advice to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).

The AI age is one of unparalleled growth and opportunity, but it is also an age of misinformation, split-second reactions, and hyper-realistic fake videos. Though we may long for simpler days, God has placed us in this time to be his ambassadors, proclaiming the kingdom of God until he returns. Our role in society is to be the type of people who reflect our Creator in our minds, speech, and actions.

Deepfakes will certainly be used for malicious purposes in the future, and we must rise above the fray and seek justice for those affected by deepfakes. So next time you see a video online that seems a little outlandish or peculiar, you might take an extra moment to consider whether or not is a deepfake. Chances are you will fall for one in the near future and won’t even know it.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24