There is relatively little risk of anyone watching Channel 4’s deepfake and seeing it as an authentic message from the Queen. Besides the fact that actress Debra Stephenson just doesn’t make a big impression, the topics supposed to be debated – a candid take on Harry and Meghan’s departure from the royal family and Prince Andrew’s history with the financier and trafficker sexual Jeffrey Epstein – are far from an area of typical Queen-ly protocol. And from a technical point of view, the visuals seen here are far from realistic. For deepfakes, these types of likelihood gaps are not uncommon.
To create these kind of doctored images, neural networks need to be trained with as many sequences as possible of the person to be faked – once that is done, this “understanding” of what the subject looks like can be. used to map the original face to someone else. Advances in machine learning and the hardware used to power it make it easier to create deepfakes for small teams and individuals, but creating truly compelling ones requires a level of sophistication few seem to master. For better or for worse, this attempt is readily visible.
Channel 4 says the post is intended to serve as a “stark warning” of the disturbing potential of fake news and manipulated messages, and the broadcaster’s program director said The Guardian that the video is “a powerful reminder that we can no longer trust our own eyes”.
While Channel 4’s intention may have been to educate, that hasn’t stopped the national broadcaster from catching fire. Since the teaser was shared on Twitter last night, the service has been torched by people laughing at the decision for (among other things) its bad taste and disrespect, as well as the potential it might have on how people react to deepfakes in the future:
It is appalling. For a channel that highlights the dangers of fake news and doctored content online in its news release, it’s very disappointing to see it indulge in the same “ comedy ” methods and normalize blurry lines.
– Benjamin Butterworth (@benjaminbutter) December 24, 2020