Deepfake: The Art Of Twisting The Facts

A contradiction in terms creates ambiguity in perception. One word may carry a positive meaning for some, while implying something completely negative to others. The word fight may be understood as a struggle toward a righteous goal, or as the use of violence and force to subdue someone. Does dream mean the beginning of a path to something better or the pursuit of false hope with a flight from reality? Today, deepfake strives to grow into a digital art form with transparent and lawful examples when, in fact, it is perceived as a huge cyber-threat in the online world. Developers who use deepfake artworks not to attack someone but to trick audiences by evoking admiration are regarded as deepfake artists already.

Some endeavors or occupations manage to turn into art in time, even if they are widely used. Maybe this is because art is boundless, responsive, and inclusive. An example of this is make-up. Make-up may be considered an art of enhancement or alteration. It fosters many other performance arts. A skillful make-up artist can transform an ordinary face into a completely different and far more glamorous face with a few touches and brush strokes. Consequently, from photography to cinema, it has enriched many art forms. With its power to shape the world through screenplays, Hollywood may be slated to benefit immensely from deepfake artists, just the way it does from make-up artists.

Hollywood’s de-aging predicament.

In previous articles, we emphasized that deepfake technologies are in the process of giving the boot to Computer-generated Imagery (CGI) used by the cinema industry to create fictional reality effects until today. It appears that the sphere of influence will not be limited to the cinema industry with its more conventional position. Digital platforms with a fast-rising stake in the global market will have their share of the transformation to prevent them from throwing away millions of dollars and being ridiculed. 

Since the last quarter of the past century, we have grown accustomed to seeing CGI technology in large-budget movies and television series. Thanks to this technology, anything that has been altered or created from scratch using computers could be plausibly transmitted on the white screen. The appeal of the CGI technology also captivated Netflix, the cinema industry’s most formidable digital competitor. 

Netflix has rattled the cinema industry with original productions released to the world on its digital platform, and it has crowned that achievement with an Oscar-winning film. The company released The Irishman, an ambitious movie with a $175-million budget, before the New Year. This long-awaited, 10-year project from the famed director Martin Scorsese brought together living legends such as Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. It was released to the market with the hopes of sweeping every award in the movie industry, starting with the Oscars. “I had to wait until now because I didn’t have the money needed for the de-aging with digital effects,” said Scorsese, explaining the reason for the delay of the movie, which was ready for release in November 2019. The 77-year-old director stated that the investment support from Netflix came as a last-ditch effort for the production after he hadn’t been able to put together the budget required in Hollywood. 

A 10-year belated Oscar award due to lack of deepfake.

With aspirations to prove its dominance of the market with an Oscar-worthy production, it took Netflix only one week—in spite of Hollywood—to overcome the obstacle of having to show the film in movie theaters for an award. The three-and-a-half-hour-long movie only needed to be in movie theaters for barely a week at limited locations to be eligible for a nomination. Then, 13.2 million viewers watched it in the first five days after it was aired on Netflix on November 27, 2019. If it had been shown in movie theaters during the same period, the movie would have made $117.9 million, according to a calculation by Nielsen based on the average movie ticket price of $8.93 in the United States. 

Netflix suffered the first difficulty with its Oscar investment when Hollywood refused to open the doors of its movie theaters to it. However, this damage paled in comparison to the one caused by deepfake. A deepfake artist and YouTuber, named iFake, with 24,000 followers embarrassed both the Oscar-winning director and Netflix, which had spent almost $200 million on this project. Imaging and cinema authorities alike hailed the de-aging effect by iFake applied to Robert De Niro in The Irishman as much better than the expensive CGI effect by Netflix. More than half a million viewers watched the video that featured a younger De Niro in the movie. Moreover, everyone talked about how iFake achieved this in just one week using a free deepfake software.

Nonetheless, the indisputable candidate for the award was still the Oscar-winning director, who obtained financing from Netflix for the CGI-based de-aging effects to transform each of the actors in their 70s to younger versions of themselves. One cannot help but think that if artificial intelligence (AI) had been discovered earlier and deepfake had emerged in 2007, maybe Scorsese would have gained a new Oscar for his library without having to worry about betraying cinema. Movie stars such as Liz Taylor (2011) and Robin Williams (2014) who passed away in the past decade may still have been defying the years with the best romance and comedy films.

A digital platform to protect the copyrights of deepfake artists.

Even if we were to deem deepfake as a digital art, and iFake as an artist who is a contender to the cinema industry, deepfake artists have been nameless since the deepfakes that ignited the spark on in late 2017. We know most of them only by their usernames, except for the academics. Whether theirs is art or science is open for discussion. Hao Li, associate professor at the University of Southern California, has been dubbed “the world’s best deepfake artist” by Li is known to be in close collaboration, as well as great competition, with Hany Farid, the world’s top digital forensic scientist from UC Berkeley. Farid detects the deepfake media developed by Li, just as the case in Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN). They both give feedback on each other’s work to improve their expertise. 

If deepfake acquires artistic value when it’s legal, then the artist’s copyrights have to be protected. For that reason, initiatives have been launched to establish a decentralized Synthetic Content Network to monitor the use of AI-developed media and intellectual property rights. Alethea AI, a studio that can create synthetic content, will be able to oversee many synthetic products, including deepfake videos over this platform. The platform uses blockchain technology to protect the usage rights of content creators and to ensure that they own the software rights of the AI they use. Synthetic Content Network and Alethea are working to provide a mechanism to openly disclose the AI-created content and to air them only with the consent of the person featured. All content created with Alethea is labeled as “satire.” They contain watermarks to distinguish them from real content. 

It appears that deepfake developers will be able to convince more people to regard them as digital artists, and over time gain more recognition, so long as they do not harm anybody. 

If deepfake uses real art, then why shouldn’t art attempt to benefit from deepfake? How would art do that? That is on the next feature.