‘Deepfake’ technology and ethics

Digitally manipulated videos, images and audio — known as deepfakes — are becoming increasingly common and nearly impossible to detect, according to NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff. He reports on deepfake videos and the consequences and ethical questions raised by this technology.

You may have seen the viral video of Tom Cruise taking off his sunglasses and running down a deserted country road in a black suit… only it wasn’t the “Mission Impossible” star. With the help of visual effects designer Chris Ume, actor Miles Fisher used advanced technology to impersonate Cruise and create videos for fun.

Sign up for our newsletter! Right Arrow

They have been so successful at convincing people that Fisher is the real Cruise that Fisher, and Ume’s company Metaphysic have partnered to sell deepfake creations to others.

The applications for using deepfakes could be many.   Fisher says, “Let’s say Tom Cruise gave us the consent for his likeness where we could move beyond just small parody clips, Fisher said. Everybody gets paid for that intellectual property.”

Right now, Metaphysic says it is only taking on projects it considers ethical, but some government officials worry that allowing companies and individuals to make such decisions could set a dangerous precedent.

Congress has held hearings on deepfakes and artificial intelligence, while the FBI said it is tracking the technology closely and “will continue to investigate any violations of federal law and actors that may use them for nefarious acts.”

Soboroff reports that companies are trying to develop software to identify deepfakes. He also says that because there currently aren’t many ways to help you identify one, if you suspect a video is a deepfake, you might be right.

Fisher insists that the technology is “morally neutral” and that its positive uses will outweigh the negative ones.

“As I find myself the unofficial face of this deepfake movement, it’s important to learn, and I’m fascinated by this,” he said. “This is the bleeding edge of technology.”