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This Unsettling Deepfake Seamlessly Casts Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in ‘Back to the Future’

This Unsettling Deepfake Seamlessly Casts Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in ‘Back to the Future’

There is no shortage of worrisome tech out there. Every day brings new headlines of some new dispatch from an impending sci-fi dystopia. But one of the more urgent innovations in technology is the rapid rise of deepfakes — fake videos that can swap other people into existing videos with stunningly few seams.

Just take this most recent example, in which Doc Brown and Marty McFly are recast in Back to the Future by an unwitting Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland.

Nearly every frame is convincing.

This can be fun enough when employed like this: recasting old fan videos. It’s also kind of entertaining to watch Jordan Peele deepfake President Barack Obama into saying things like “Killmonger was right.”

But as the technology gets harder to spot, the potential implications veer into Black Mirror territory.

Already, some trolls have used deepfake tech to swap adult film stars out of pornography videos and replace them with famous celebrities, ex-girlfriends, friends and co-workers. Some women have spoke out about the feelings of violation they felt when such videos surfaced online — sometimes to be sold, sometimes to use as leverage. We wrote a longer piece about the implications last year.

And that’s not all. Experts have expressed concern about deepfakes being used in information wars and elections. It would not be difficult to create a deepfake of, say, President Donald Trump calling for North Korea to be bombed or Elizabeth Warren supporting political assassinations. Likewise, what happens when real footage of an important public figure saying something damning is released, and they blame it on a deepfake?

It’s one of the many ways technology is playing with our concept of reality and muddying the waters of truth. Since its invention, video has been seen as a fairly reliable compass for what is and isn’t real — it’s why “video footage” is considered such a slam dunk in courtrooms. But as deepfake technology progresses, future generations may come to see such determinations as antiquated.

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