Sep 28, 2019

Revenge of the deepfake detectives

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech giants, startups and academic labs are pumping out datasets and detectors in hopes of jump-starting the effort to create an automated system that can separate real videos, images and voice recordings from AI forgeries.

Why it matters: Algorithms that try to detect deepfakes lag behind the technology that creates them — a worrying imbalance given the technology's potential to stir chaos in an election or an IPO.

Driving the news: Dessa, the AI company behind the hyper-convincing fake Joe Rogan voice from earlier this summer, published a tool today for detecting deepfake audio — the kind that recently scammed a CEO out of $240,000.

  • The new detector, which Axios is reporting first, is open source, so anybody can go through the code for free to understand and potentially improve it.
  • But the company gets something out of it: The detector is built on a Dessa platform, which you have to download (without paying) to set it up.

The big picture: There's an all-hands scramble for better detectors, which generally require a lot of really good examples of deepfakes. Researchers use them to train algorithms that can tell if media was created by AI.

  • Yesterday, SUNY Albany deepfake expert Siwei Lyu released a dataset filed with celebrity deepfakes.
  • Earlier in the week, Google and Jigsaw — both owned by parent company Alphabet — released a large set of video deepfakes.
  • And earlier this month, Facebook, Microsoft and the Partnership on AI teamed up with academic researchers to release more deepfake videos — and offer a prize to the team that uses them to make the best detector.

Unlike these datasets, which allow researchers to cook up their own detectors, Dessa is releasing a pre-baked system — which has advantages and risks.

  • The company felt a responsibility to release an antidote after it made the realistic Rogan voice, says Ragavan Thurairatnam, Dessa's co-founder.
  • "I think it's inevitable that malicious actors are going to move much faster than those who want to stop it," he tells Axios. The free detector is a "starting point" for people to push detection forward.

But, but, but: Thurairatnam acknowledged that an open-source detector could help a particularly determined troll create new audio fakes that fool it. That's because generative AI systems can be trained to trick a specific detector.

  • He argues that the potential for creating better detectors outweighs the probability that someone will misuse Dessa's code.
  • But Lyu of SUNY Albany says there's some reason to worry. "In principle, such code will help both but probably more for making better generators."

Go deeper: Researchers struggle with containing potentially harmful AI

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,410,228 — Total deaths: 345,105 — Total recoveries — 2,169,005Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,643,499 — Total deaths: 97,722 — Total recoveries: 366,736 — Total tested: 14,163,915Map.
  3. World: White House announces travel restrictions on Brazil, coronavirus hotspot in Southern Hemisphere Over 100 coronavirus cases in Germany tied to single day of church services — Boris Johnson backs top aide amid reports that he broke U.K. lockdown while exhibiting symptoms.
  4. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks headed into Memorial Day weekend Report finds "little evidence" coronavirus under control in most statesHurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID-19 response
  5. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Public employees brace for layoffs.
  6. Federal government: Trump attacks a Columbia University study that suggests earlier lockdown could have saved 36,000 American lives.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

The CDC is warning of potentially "aggressive rodent behavior" amid a rise in reports of rat activity in several areas, as the animals search further for food while Americans stay home more during the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers: More than 97,700 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 366,700 Americans have recovered and more than 14.1 million tests have been conducted.

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Japan's economy minister outlined plans on Monday to end the nationwide state of emergency as the number of new novel coronavirus cases continues to decline to fewer than 50 a day, per Bloomberg. Japan has reported 16,550 cases and 820 deaths.

By the numbers: Over 5.4 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.1 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 13.7 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,800 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.