Can Deepfakes Be Put to a Noble Use?

Mozilla

By Mozilla | Sept. 21, 2020 | Fellowships & Awards

Introducing Deep Reckonings, a Mozilla Creative Media Award recipient created by Stephanie Lepp


Did Mark Zuckerberg really admit that Facebook can cause widespread societal harm? Did Alex Jones just confess to peddling outrageous conspiracy theories? And did Brett Kavanaugh give a contrite speech about the way he handled his congressional hearing?

None of these public reckonings actually exist. But, deepfakes of them do — and they offer a window into a world where there’s more humanity online (and off).

This is the central idea behind Deep Reckonings, a series of explicitly-marked deepfakes created by Stephanie Lepp that asks the question: How might we use our synthetic selves to elicit our better selves? Watch Deep Reckonings at http://www.deepreckonings.com/.

The deepfakes we encounter online are usually intended to entertain us, to deceive us, or to humiliate us. But Deep Reckonings posits that this AI-powered technology can be put to a more benevolent use. These three deepfakes model a world where powerful figures don’t deny and deflect, but rather display humility, authenticity, and remorse.

Deep Reckonings is created by Stephanie Lepp, a U.S.-based artist and producer. Says Lepp: “We’re having a moral panic over deepfakes, and rightfully so. And yet, synthetic media are so powerful, I can't help but wonder: What are the ethical and benevolent uses of synthetic media, beyond using deepfakes to warn about the dangers of deepfakes? Specifically, echoing Gandhi, how might we use synthetic media to envision and elicit 'the change we wish to see'?"

What are the ethical and benevolent uses of synthetic media?

Stephanie Lepp

Lepp continues: “Of course, deepfakes must be explicitly marked as fake to prevent misinformation. And I'd go even further — marking deepfakes as fake showcases the power of our own consciousness. Meaning: part of the power of synthetic media is that we can know it's fake, and it still affects us. A war veteran can know a virtual reality experience is fake, and it still helps them overcome PTSD. We can know a synthetic video is fake, and it can still expand our minds.”

Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards are part of our mission to realize more trustworthy AI in consumer technology. The awards fuel the people and projects on the front lines of the internet health movement — from creative technologists in Japan, to tech policy analysts in Uganda, to privacy activists in the U.S.

The latest cohort of Awardees uses art and advocacy to examine AI’s effect on media and truth. Misinformation is one of the biggest issues facing the internet — and society — today. And the AI powering the internet is complicit. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook recommend and amplify content that will keep us clicking, even if it’s radical or flat out wrong. Deepfakes have the potential to make fiction seem authentic. And AI-powered content moderation can stifle free expression.

Says J. Bob Alotta, Mozilla’s VP of Global Programs: “AI plays a central role in consumer technology today — it curates our news, it recommends who we date, and it targets us with ads. Such a powerful technology should be demonstrably worthy of trust, but often it is not. Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards draw attention to this, and also advocate for more privacy, transparency, and human well-being in AI.”

Learn more about upcoming Creative Media Award projects.