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Fake news: you ain't seen nothing yet

July 11, 2017 | Telepresence Options

video_fake_events.jpg

Story and images by The Economist

Generating convincing audio and video of fake events

EARLIER this year Françoise Hardy, a French musician, appeared in a YouTube video (see link). She is asked, by a presenter off-screen, why President Donald Trump sent his press secretary, Sean Spicer, to lie about the size of the inauguration crowd. First, Ms Hardy argues. Then she says Mr Spicer "gave alternative facts to that". It's all a little odd, not least because Françoise Hardy (pictured), who is now 73, looks only 20, and the voice coming out of her mouth belongs to Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to Mr Trump.

The video, called "Alternative Face v1.1", is the work of Mario Klingemann, a German artist. It plays audio from an NBC interview with Ms Conway through the mouth of Ms Hardy's digital ghost. The video is wobbly and pixelated; a competent visual-effects shop could do much better. But Mr Klingemann did not fiddle with editing software to make it. Instead, he took only a few days to create the clip on a desktop computer using a generative adversarial network (GAN), a type of machine-learning algorithm. His computer spat it out automatically after being force fed old music videos of Ms Hardy. It is a recording of something that never happened.

Mr Klingemann's experiment foreshadows a new battlefield between falsehood and veracity. Faith in written information is under attack in some quarters by the spread of what is loosely known as "fake news". But images and sound recordings retain for many an inherent trustworthiness. GANs are part of a technological wave that threatens this credibility.

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