‘Catastrophic’ Putin weapon poses ‘major threat’ to markets

Deepfake of Zelensky delivering speech appears online

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Deepfakes are synthetic media such as audio or video that have been made with artificial intelligence (AI). The technology to make deepfakes involves deep AI – in other words, computer learning that simulates intelligence. There are growing fears that the increasingly sophisticated technology can be used to create fake news and misleading online content. During the war in Ukraine, one deepfake showed Putin declaring peace, while another showed Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky telling his people to lay down their arms.

In March last year the FBI put out a notification warning that “Russian and Chinese actors are using synthetic profile images” to creating deepfake journalists and media personalities.

US Republican Senator Ben Sasse is among those to warn of deepfakes, which could be harnessed by the Kremlin.

He said: “When you think about the catastrophic potential to public trust and to markets that could come from deepfake attacks, are we organised in a way that we could possibly respond fast enough?”

The senator, who introduced a bill to criminalise the malicious creation and sharing of deepfakes, made the remarks at a 2019 hearing.

Dan Coats, the former US Director of National Intelligence, added: “We clearly need to be more agile.

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“It poses a major threat to the US and something that the intelligence community needs to be restructured to address.”

So far there is no evidence to suggest that deepfakes have majorly influenced a US election.

But the American intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies remain concerned about the technology’s malicious potential.

The synthetic media, which can be widely shared online, are growing in how realistic they appear.

Experts believe that members of the public with the most advanced smartphones will soon be able to create convincing deepfakes.

Someone who has researched deepfakes extensively is political scientist and technology consultant Nina Schick.

The journalist first encountered the revolutionary technology five years ago while she was advising politicians in Europe about Russian disinformation in elections.

Speaking to CBS’ ‘60 Minutes’ in July, she underlined the importance of deepfakes and the danger they pose.

She said: “It is without a doubt one of the most important revolutions in the future of human communication and perception.

“I would say it is analogous to the birth of the Internet.”

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The expert said she was “coming at it from the perspective of disinformation and manipulation in the context of elections”.

She added: “The fact that AI can now be used to make images and video that are fake that look hyper realistic, I thought, well, from a disinformation perspective, this is a game changer.”

Ms Schick, who wrote the 2020 book ‘Deepfakes’, also discussed social media platforms’ response to the Zelensky deepfake after it was taken down by several platforms in March.

She said: “The platforms can make a big hoo-ha about dealing with this when they aren’t doing more on other forms of disinformation.

“There are so many other forms of disinformation in this war which haven’t been debunked.”

She added: “It is a new weapon and a potent form of visual disinformation – and anyone can do it.”

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