In recent months, Barack Obama has remained remarkably quiet on the subject of current events. The former president has been seemingly biting his tongue on a whole host of subjects, from the fake news epidemic to the quality of current President Donald Trump's work in the White House. So that's why it came as a bit of a surprise when a bombshell video appeared on YouTube, showing him speaking with extreme candor about a whole lot of things.
"We're entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time," he explains in a slightly nasal tone. "They could have me say things like . . . 'Ben Carson is in the sunken place.' Or how about this, simply, 'President Trump is a total and complete dipsh*t.'"
After the shocking comments, Obama then shifts. "See, I would never say these things," he clarifies. "But someone else would." That someone else, it's revealed, happens to be actor, writer, and director Jordan Peele, showing via split-screen that Obama never said any of these words to begin with. Wait: huh? What is going on, and how did Peele get Obama to look like he was saying these things?
The answer: the video is actually a PSA created in partnership with BuzzFeed using publicly available video technology like Adobe After Effects and artificial intelligence program FakeApp to create a "deepfake," a type of video featuring realistic face swapping that creates the illusion that a person is doing something they normally wouldn't. Deepfakes have been used in myriad ways — from altering porn to creating filters on Snapchat — and are an example of the power of facial recognition software.
As the Obama/Peele video proves, there is a very real, very disturbing potential for this technology: fake news videos like this could become a digital epidemic, a way to fool people into believing someone did or said things on film when they definitely did not. While the video sees Peele voicing this digital puppet Obama, it has been pointed out that technology will evolve soon enough to make such voice acting unnecessary since audio, too, can be faked.
Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti emphasized that the motivation for making this video was to point out how easy — and inevitably common — this bogus experience will become. "We've covered counterfeit news websites that say the pope endorsed Trump that look kinda like real news," he explained. "Now we're starting to see tech that allows people to put words into the mouths of public figures."
As Peele says at the end of the video, this is a call to action to "stay woke" and a warning that technology may make such unbelievable science fictions a commonplace reality. "It may sound basic," Peele explains. "But how we move forward in the Age of Information is gonna be the difference between whether we survive or whether we become some kind of f*cked-up dystopia."