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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

Using apps to prevent deadly police encounters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Mobile phone apps are evolving in ways that can stop rather than simply document deadly police encounters with people of color — including notifying family and lawyers about potential violations in real time.

Why it matters: As states and cities face pressure to reform excessive force policies, apps that monitor police are becoming more interactive, gathering evidence against rogue officers as well as posting social media videos to shame the agencies.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
11 hours ago - Technology

TikTok gets more time (again)

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The White House is again giving TikTok's Chinese parent company more to satisfy national security concerns, rather than initiating legal action, a source familiar with the situation tells Axios.

The state of play: China's ByteDance had until Friday to resolve issues raised by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which is chaired by Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin. This was the company's third deadline, with CFIUS having provided two earlier extensions.

Federal judge orders Trump administration to restore DACA

DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18. Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty

A federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to fully restore the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, giving undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a chance to petition for protection from deportation.

Why it matters: DACA was implemented under former President Obama, but President Trump has sought to undo the program since taking office. Friday’s ruling will require Department of Homeland Security officers to begin accepting applications starting Monday and guarantee that work permits are valid for two years.