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Reddit Bans Deepfake Pornography, Which Superimposes Famous Faces Onto Bodies

Our AI-generated dystopia

If you ever wanted to live in a science fiction novel, I have good news! We’re already there. But as disturbing as “deepfake porn” might be due to a host of issues, the technology behind it has even more far-reaching ramifications.

Reddit has shut down its “deepfake” forum, echoing moves from other social media platforms and sites to ban such content, as it violates the depicted person’s consent and is considered “involuntary pornography.” Deepfakes are made using artificial intelligence software that superimposes the faces of celebrities (or regular people—say, your ex) onto explicit photos or videos. Far from a copy and paste job, deepfakes are made to look extremely realistic.

According to CNN Tech, some of the most popular and widely shared “productions” in this vein used the images of some of our most beloved genre stars, like Gal Gadot and Daisy Ridley.

Reddit finally banned their deepfake forum, citing the company’s policy against “involuntary pornography,” which “prohibits the dissemination of images or video depicting any person in a state of nudity or engaged in any act of sexual conduct apparently created or posted without their permission, including depictions that have been faked.”

As we all know, however, bans can only accomplish so much. This might slow the easy dissemination of such content via Reddit, but the Internet is vast and cavernous. There’s always going to be somewhere for this stuff to find a home, and banning these forums and removing posted content doesn’t do anything about the means of producing this in the first place.

Bans and removals generally just turn into an elaborate game of online whack-a-mole. It may feel scary and like an episode of Black Mirror, but we need to come to grips with the idea that this is a new state of things that will only become more and more common. Having The Talk with your offspring about sex and porn? It seems like now the reality of what AIs can do should be included alongside the birds and the bees.

“Don’t believe everything you see on the Internet” is a lesson everyone needs to take to heart, especially our distant relatives on Facebook who forward you conspiracy theories without pausing for breath. Creating and distributing faked pornography that looks real is upsetting enough. But the implications for deepfake-style artificial intelligence productions reach far beyond porn. As CNN points out, last summer, “University of Washington researchers announced they had developed software that turned audio clips of speeches by former President Obama into a realistic, lip-synced video.”

We’re already living in a time where actual fake news gets widely disseminated and can help sway opinions and even elections. Now we’re on the verge of being able to easily and cheaply create content where it will seem as though public figures actually speak the words that we put into their mouths. How can you explain to someone that a person never made that statement when they’ve seen it with their own two eyes?

CNN cites a New York Times op-ed by political science professor Henry Farrell and author Rick Perlstein that chills my science fiction dystopia-loving soul—because I never imagined that I’d be present in a scenario that would have seemed so far-fetched in my youth. The op-ed points out: “It already feels as though we are living in an alternative science-fiction universe where no one agrees on what is true. Just think how much worse it will be when fake news becomes fake video.”

Is it too late to switch over to a fantasy-based universe? Elves seem suddenly a lot less scary than AI.

(via CNN Tech, image: Wikimedia Commons)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.