Scientific American teams up with M.I.T.-led project “In Event of Moon Disaster” for the short film “To Make a Deepfake”

Apparently, there was a backup speech prepared for Nixon in case the Apollo 11 mission failed. A team from M.I.T. used this speech and available deep learning technology to synthesize an entirely fake news narrative around this, until-now, unused speech.

In Event of Moon Disaster
from Suzanne Day (MIT)
In Event of Moon Disaster from Suzanne Day

The fake film is both fascinating and horrifying. On the positive side, it reminded me of the magic of discovering what Photoshop* could do with an image 25 years ago. It’s also easy to imagine many nefarious ways to weaponize deepfake videos. One of the lasting bits that made an impression on me was a comment Boston University Law Professor Danielle Citron made regarding the stance one takes on deepfakes. How do we deal with them, do we ban them? She illustrates with a metaphor—a kitchen knife—we can use it to carve a chicken at home in the kitchen…or stab someone with it. Yikes!

I really wish this team had taken the logical next step to point people in the direction of how to become more media savvy, for lack of a better term. Though all communication demands a degree of critical thinking, video and film are arguably the most effective in conveying a message. Maybe because it hits two of our senses, sight and sound, or possibly due to the passive manner in which we consume it—it’s the laziest media to consume. Sure, there's a policy angle too, but corporations and governments have thus far been inconsistent (or negligent) in addressing the matter. In many cases, they are the actual perpetrators. I’d put more stock into empowering people with the tools to understand what’s going on in front of their eyeballs.

To bring it back to a happy place, the project was exhibited in a few cities, including Amsterdam. The press kit features an image of a re-created late-1960s living room which is dyn-o-mite!

Art installation in Amsterdam


*Photoshop 2.5, no layers, yowza!