In brief: AI and machine learning offer humanity a number of benefits, but they can also be used for more nefarious purposes. One of these is “deepfake” videos, which involve someone’s face being edited onto the faces of actresses who appear in pornographic videos. One of the most popular Hollywood stars to be digitally added to these clips in Scarlett Johansson, but she says trying to stop them is a “lost cause.”
Back in December 2017, Motherboard highlighted the work of a Redditor called deepfakes who was creating these videos, which can appear quite realistic. They’ve since been banned by the likes of Discord, Twitter, and GIF-hosting platform Gfycat. Pornhub was supposed to have done the same thing, but they're still easily found on site. Moreover, they’ve now become more realistic while the software behind them is easier to use.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Johansson, who is Hollywood’s highest-paid actress, spoke out about the practice. The Avengers star appears in many of the videos, including one that has been viewed over 1.5 million times.
“Nothing can stop someone from cutting and pasting my image or anyone else’s onto a different body and making it look as eerily realistic as desired,” she said. “The fact is that trying to protect yourself from the Internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause [...] The Internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”
While most deepfake clips use images of stars such as Maisie Williams, Taylor Swift, Aubrey Plaza, and Gal Gadot, not every victim is a celebrity. A Washington Post story highlighted a woman in her 40s who’s likeness appears in a video, though it’s unclear why she was targeted.
While forensic tools have been developed by the Defense Department for catching deepfake videos and fake news created using the same techniques, it's still a legal grey area. Unlike The Fappening, which saw explicit photos of celebs including Johansson posted online, no personal data is stolen when creating the clips. Johansson also noted that different countries have different copyright laws, further complicating the matter.