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Sunday, May 28, 2023

'Heart wrenching': AI expert details dangers of deepfakes and tools to detect manipulated content

While some uses of deepfakes are lighthearted like the pope donning a white Balenciaga puffer jacket or an AI-generated song using vocals from Drake and The Weeknd, they can also sow doubt about the authenticity of legitimate audio and videos. 

Criminals are taking advantage of the technology to conduct misinformation campaigns, commit fraud and obstruct justice. As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to advance, so does the proliferation of fake content that experts warn could pose a serious threat to various aspects of everyday life if proper controls aren’t put in place. 

AI-manipulated images, videos and audio known as “deepfakes” are often used to create convincing but false representations of people and events. Because deepfakes are difficult for the average consumer to detect, companies like Pindrop are working to help companies and consumers identify what’s real and what’s fake.


AI manipulated images, videos and audio, known as “deepfakes” are often used to create convincing but false representations of people and events. (iStock)

Pindrop co-founder and CEO, Vijay Balasubramaniyan, said his company looks at security, identity and intelligence in audio communications to help the top banks, insurance companies and health care providers in the world determine whether they are talking to a human on the other end of the line. 

“We’re seeing very specific targeted attacks,” he said. “If I’m the CEO of a particular organization, I probably have a lot of audio content out there, video content out there, [so fraudsters] create a deepfake of that person to go after them for their bank accounts [and] their health care records.”

While Pindrop mainly focuses on helping large companies avoid AI scams, Balasubramaniyan said he eventually wants to expand his technology to help the individual consumer because the problem is affecting everyone. 

He predicts audio and video breaches are only going to become more common because if people have “tons of audio or tons of video of a particular person, you can create their likeness a whole lot easier.”

He said there are some telltale signs that can indicate a call or video is a deepfake, such as a time lag between when a question is asked and an answer is given, which can actually work in the scammer’s favor because it leads the person on the other end of the line to believe something is wrong. 

“When a call center agent is trying to help you and you don’t respond immediately, they actually think, ‘Oh man, this person is unhappy or I didn’t say the right thing,'” he explained. “Therefore many of them actually start divulging all kinds of things.”

“The same thing is happening on the consumer side when you are getting a call from your daughter, your son saying, ‘There’s a problem, I’ve been kidnapped’ and then you have this really long pause,” he added. “That pause is unsettling, but it’s actually a sign that someone’s using a deepfake because they have to type the answer and the system has to process that.” 

As it becomes more difficult to ascertain who is human and who is a machine, it is important to adopt technology that allows you to make that determination, Balasubramaniyan argued. 

“But the scarier thing for me is our democracy,” he added. “We’re coming up to an election cycle in the next year, and you’re seeing ads, you’re seeing images.”

For example, the leading candidate of a campaign could be smeared by a series of deepfakes or there might be authentic content that puts a candidate in a bad light, but they can deny it by using AI as a scapegoat. 

Balasubramaniyan said people need to be increasingly skeptical about what they are hearing and viewing and warned that if a voice seems robotic, a video is choppy, there is background noise, pauses between questions or the subject isn’t blinking, they should exercise caution and assume it is a deepfake. 

He said this added caution is especially important if the video or message appeals to your emotions, which can lead to “heart-wrenching” consequences if a loved one gets a call about you or your grandparent is coerced into forking over their hard-earned money, as well as instances where a woman’s image and likeness is used to generate deep fake pictures or videos.

Some of the most successful companies in the business profit off of AI companionship to generate fake boyfriends, or more often according to Balasubramaniyan, fake boyfriends with certain qualities or capabilities. 

“Over time, you build security, you build the ability for you to now have a checkmark on your website to say this is a good website,” he added. 

The same thing will happen with AI if people take back control through a combination of technology and human vigilance, Balasubramaniyan said.


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