People not being able to believe what they see or hear in electronic media because that media can be convincingly manipulated poses one of the greatest challenges for the future of society. A rapidly evolving technology known as “Deepfakes” allows for the creation of fake media, particularly video, that can place a person’s face on someone else’s body or have the image of a person deliver a speech that they never gave. Pornography can be created, for example, that puts an innocent person’s likeness atop an actor in a sex video, or a politician can be made to look like they are saying something objectionable in a video released just prior to an election. Not being able to ever trust one’s eyes or ears, with the very nature of reality possibly coming into question, has profound and dangerous implications. How can a modern society or a modern democracy function when there basic facts are unverifiable or untrustworthy?
Accordingly, Deepfake Awareness Day, set to be observed annually every July 20th, aims to raise awareness of this technology and its use. The purpose of the day is not only to foster vigilance against the harms of Deepfakes, but to spur an ongoing conversation into the proper responses to this technological challenge.
The date of July 20th was chosen to correspond to the first Moon landing. This is not to feed into conspiracies that the Moon landing was faked or that contemporary films of the mission are not authentic. Rather, the date was chosen to commemorate one of the most compelling and interesting early examples of a Deepfake, a speech delivered by President Nixon called “In Event of Moon Disaster.” Except that Nixon never delivered the speech. A group of artists at MIT in concert with two private companies produced an effective simulacrum of the former President eulogizing two astronauts in remarks prepared by speech writer Bill Safire for the contingency of mission failure. Thankfully, the mission succeeded, ultimately making July 20th National Moon Day, and also thankfully making the somber speech nothing more than an archive item. Given the nefarious uses of Deepfakes for things such as non-consensual porn, associating Deepfake Awareness Day with a serious historical study on Moon Day should engender serious conversations about the technology.
Observe Deepfake Awareness Day by researching the technology, learning about how to spot Deepfakes, and how to mitigate their impact. Perhaps more importantly, observe Deepfake Awareness Day by thinking about ways the technology can be somehow transformed from a menace into a force for good.
In Event of Moon Disaster. Safire, Bill. July 18, 1969
In Event of Moon Disaster
A Nixon Deepfake, a ‘Moon Disaster’ Speech and an Information Ecosystem at Risk
Learning about Deepfakes