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Sunday 24 Oct 2021

Zelig as Deepfaking
David Simmonds

Source: regarder-films.net

A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported on a couple of potentially dangerous developments in the world of deepfaking. Deepfaking uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to produce images indistinguishable from originals and manipulating old images to give them a digital afterlife.

A Tom Cruise impersonator.

The first development involved a Tom Cruise impersonator. He worked with a visual artist to produce startlingly accurate videos of what appeared to be the actor himself. I don’t know which is more alarming, the creation of a fooled me video or the fact Tom Cruise is attracting impersonators and trying to vault himself into the same league as Elvis Presley, Liza Minelli and Cher. He certainly didn’t have my permission to get himself impersonated.

The second development was the animation of old photographs, more than 26 million, by a program called Deep Nostalgia. The program takes a still photograph, digitizes it and has the subjects moving about and smiling. Now that’s eerie.

When I see a photograph of Abraham Lincoln, I think of him as well and truly deceased. His smiling and moving for me at the whim of some punk software developer only cheapen him. It unnerves me.

The developer of the Tom Cruise video says he spent two months training his computer to model the facial expressions of Cruise and that it’s “not something you can do at a home computer.” The Deep Nostalgia developer assures us that his technology is safe because his company only works with other companies that he trusts not to abuse it. All the same, the pace of innovation is such that the technology could land up on home computers or smartphones within a year pr two; if there is a demand for the technology, it will develop no matter who originally trusted whom not to do so.

> The benign future uses of the technology have been called endless. Those listed by its proponents include the aging or de-aging of actors in old movies, improving the dubbing of voices on videos and helping corporate executives speak more warmly to foreign audiences.

The possible person uses are numerous.

I can see the possibilities for personal use of the technology. Although I would not call myself unduly vain, I could add some spark to my house by adorning my mantlepiece with pictures of me standing beside Desmond Tutu when he won the Nobel prize in 1983 or performing on stage for the Royal family, with the Beatles, in 1963.

There is one potential use of the technology that blackens the sunny sky: the compromising photograph. What is to stop my enemies from putting together a fake photograph of me at, say, a Conservative Party rally? I’d have to cough up dozens of dollars to keep it out of circulation.

If this technology becomes widely available, the incidence of blackmail will surely increase. For blackmailers, it would be like shooting at a barn door.

There is also, fortunately for me, the potential for a rebound. If a copy is indistinguishable from the original, how can anyone confirm it is genuine. Maybe only by corroborating the photo evidence by seeing me there personally.

Taking my cue from Donald Trump, I could denounce the photo as a fake. A judge would likely believe me. Therefore, courts won’t be able to rely on photographic evidence anymore.

Acquittals will become the norm. Criminals will roam the streets, Anarchy will ensue.

It’s hard to predict what kind of day-to-day life deepfakery will take us. One thinker, quoted in the article, imagines a future in which “whole aspects of our personalities could be simulated after our death, trained by our voices on social media.” I think I’d choose to go through door number two myself, not knowing what lay behind it, rather than this door number one.

My one ask.

Whatever the future holds, I have one request. Please don’t perpetuate me as a Tom Cruise impersonator or, for that matter, as Abraham Lincoln. Zelig I do not want to be.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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