Welcome to the infocalypse.
In the early, optimistic days of the internet, we thought it would be a repository of high-quality information. Instead, it's starting to feel like a bottomless ocean of lies that rewards attention-grabbing disinformation and pollutes the political process.
That's the note of alarm that three members of Congress sounded in a letter this week to Daniel Coats, the U.S. director of national intelligence. In it, the lawmakers warned specifically about the technology called deepfake, which lets computer users with little tech savvy create convincing footage of people doing and saying things that they never actually did.
"Hyper-realistic digital forgeries — popularly referred to as 'deep fakes' [sic] — use sophisticated machine learning techniques to produce convincing depictions of individuals doing or saying things they never did, without their consent or knowledge," read the letter. "By blurring the line between fact and fiction, deep fake technology could undermine public trust in recorded images and videos as objective depictions of reality."
Representatives Adam Schiff (D-CA), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) signed the letter to Coats. In it, they requested that the heads of the intelligence community prepare a report that would tell Congress what steps it has planned to fight the dissemination of faked clips.
"Forged videos, images or audio could be used to target individuals for blackmail or for other nefarious purposes," they wrote. "Of greater concern for national security, they could also be used by foreign or domestic actors to spread misinformation."
Deepfakes rose to prominence early this year on Reddit, where posters started using it to splice the likenesses of celebrities into pornographic films and the visage of Nicolas Cage into movies he never appeared in. Soon afterward, experts at a DARPA meeting of media forensics experts became concerned about it the technology. One expert told the Outline that doctored footage of a world leader declaring war could spark a "full-blown nuclear holocaust."
A deepfake hoax of a world leader hasn't viral — yet. If it does, it will be a test of our collective skepticism — in an age when even genuine information is swiftly politicized online.
READ MORE: Deep Fakes Letter [Adam Schiff]
More on information warfare: If DARPA Wants To Stop Deepfakes, They Should Talk To Facebook And Google