Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you want to make a video deepfake, you can download free software and create it yourself. Someone with a bit of savvy and a chunk of time can churn out side-splitters like this one. Not so for audio deepfakes — at least not yet. Good synthetic audio is still the domain of startups, Big Tech and academic research.

What's happening: Pindrop, the audio biometrics company, is developing synthetic voices in order to train its own defenses to detect them. Vijay Balasubramaniyan, Pindrop's CEO, shared several fake voices with Axios.

How it works: Pindrop's system listened to countless hours of DeGeneres talking in real life — mostly narrating her own audiobooks — and then used a cutting-edge AI technique to develop an impersonator, improving the synthetic voice until the system could no longer tell it apart from the real thing. Now, anyone can type a phrase into the system and have it read out in DeGeneres' voice.

Axios listened to this and several other Pindrop-generated voices. Each captured the real speakers' idiosyncrasies, but they were exposed by their robotic-sounding pace and cadence. To this, Balasubramaniyan replied:

"You are actually identifying all the things it takes to start mimicking a million years of human evolution in voice. Our synthesis systems do a good job at synthesizing a voice but not yet things like cadence, emotion and flair, which are all active areas of research."

But that doesn't mean these imperfect fakes couldn't cause some mischief now. Imagine if you were already expecting to receive a phone call from someone. You probably wouldn't be too suspicious if he sounded a bit robotic or stilted if he told you he was sick and driving through a tunnel.

  • "We're communicating through this phone system that has a lot of security issues," says Aviv Ovadya, a misinformation researcher and founder of the Thoughtful Technology Project.
  • This is how Charlie Warzel, formerly of BuzzFeed News, tricked his own mother into falling for an AI mimicry of his voice.

Go deeper: Defending against audio deepfakes before it's too late

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 22 mins ago - Economy & Business

Trump risk rises for companies

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump fancies himself a businessman — and has given himself a central role in determining the conduct and even the existence of major companies both domestic and foreign.

Why it matters: America has historically been a great place to operate a company under the rule of law, and not be beholden to political whim. Those days seem to be over — at least for companies in the communications industry.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Updated 22 mins ago - Energy & Environment

China's split personality on climate

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new insta-analysis of China's vow to achieve "carbon neutrality" before 2060 helps to underscore why Tuesday's announcement sent shockwaves through the climate and energy world.

Why it matters: Per the Climate Action Tracker, a research group, following through would lower projected global warming 0.2 to 0.3°C. That's a lot!

Kayleigh McEnany: Trump will accept "free and fair" election, no answer on if he loses

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday that President Trump will "accept the results of a free and fair election," but did not specify whether he will commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses to Joe Biden.

Why it matters: Trump refused to say on Wednesday whether he would commit to a peaceful transition of power, instead remarking: "we're going to have to see what happens."

Get Axios AM in your inbox

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!