Kathie Lee Gifford reacts to the death of prominent Christian evangelist and personal friend Rev. Billy Graham on Megyn Kelly TODAY. “My whole family came to Jesus through the Billy Graham organization,” she told Kelly. More on this story here.
All it takes is a single selfie.From that static image, an algorithm can quickly create a moving, lifelike avatar: a video not recorded, but fabricated from whole cloth by software.With more time, Pinscreen, the Los Angeles start-up behind the technology, believes its renderings will become so accurate they will defy reality.”You won’t be able to tell,” said Hao Li, a leading researcher on computer-generated video at USC who founded Pinscreen in 2015. “With further deep-learning advancements, especially on mobile devices, we’ll be able to produce completely photoreal avatars in real time.”The technology is a triumph of computer science that highlights the gains researchers have made in deep neural networks, complex algorithms that loosely mimic the thinking of the human brain.Similar breakthroughs in artificial intelligence allowed University of Washington researchers to move President Obama’s mouth to match a made-up script and the chipmaker Nvidia to train computers to imagine what roads would look like in different weather.What used to take a sophisticated Hollywood production company weeks could soon be accomplished in seconds by anyone with a smartphone.Not available for a video chat? Use your lifelike avatar as a stand-in. Want to insert yourself into a virtual reality game? Upload your picture and have the game render your character.Those are the benign applications.
Now imagine a phony video of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un announcing a missile strike. The White House would have mere minutes to determine whether the clip was genuine and whether it warranted a retaliatory strike.
What about video of a presidential candidate admitting to taking foreign cash? Even if the footage proved fake, the damage could prove irreversible.
In some corners of the internet, people are using open-source software to swap celebrities’ faces into pornographic videos, a phenomenon called Deep Fakes.
It’s not hard to imagine a world in which social media is awash with doctored videos targeting ordinary people to exact revenge, extort or to simply troll.
In that scenario, where Twitter and Facebook are algorithmically flooded with hoaxes, no one could fully believe what they see. Truth, already diminished by Russia’s misinformation campaign and President Trump’s proclivity to label uncomplimentary journalism “fake news,” would be more subjective than ever.
The danger there is not just believing hoaxes, but also dismissing what’s real.
“If anything can be real, nothing is real,” said a Reddit user in a manifesto defending the Deep Fakes forum, which has since been banned for producing porn without consent from the people whose faces were used.
The consequences could be devastating for the notion of evidentiary video, long considered the paradigm of proof given the sophistication required to manipulate it.
“This goes far beyond ‘fake news’ because you are dealing with a medium, video, that we traditionally put a tremendous amount of weight on and trust in,” said David Ryan Polgar, a writer and self-described tech ethicist. “If you look back at what can now be considered the first viral video, it was the witnessing of Rodney King being assaulted that dramatically impacted public opinion. A video is visceral. It is also a medium that seems objective.”
To stop the spread of fake videos, Facebook, Google and Twitter would need to show they can make good on recent promises to police their platforms.
Last week’s indictment of more than a dozen Russian operatives and three Russian companies by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III showed how easily bad actors can exploit the tech companies that dominate our access to information. Silicon Valley was blindsided by the spread of trolls, bots and propaganda — a problem that persists today.
Tech companies have a financial incentive to promote sensational content. And as platforms rather than media companies, they’ve fiercely defended their right to shirk editorial judgment.
Critics question whether Facebook, Google and Twitter are prepared to detect an onslaught of new technology like machine-generated video.
“Platforms are starting to take 2016-style misinformation seriously at some levels,” said Aviv Ovadya, chief technologist at the Center for Social Media Responsibility. “But doing things that scale is much harder.”
Fake video “will need to be addressed at a deeper technical infrastructure layer, which is a whole different type of ballgame,” Ovadya said.
(Facebook and Twitter did not respond to interview requests. Google declined to comment.)
The problem today is that there isn’t much in the way of safeguards.
Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at Dartmouth College who often consults for law enforcement, said watching for blood flow in the face can sometimes determine whether footage is real. Slight imperfections on a pixel level can also reveal whether a clip is genuine.
Over time, though, Farid thinks artificial intelligence will undermine these clues, perpetuating a cat-and-mouse game between algorithms and investigators.
“I’ve been working in this space for two decades and have known about the issue of manipulated video, but it’s never risen to the level where everyone panics,” Farid said. “But this machine-learning-generated video has come out of nowhere and has taken a lot of us by surprise.”
That includes researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The U.S. military’s high-tech research lab, better known as DARPA, meets regularly with experts in media forensics like Farid and Li from Pinscreen. Discussion at a recent get-together in Menlo Park turned to Deep Fakes and ways to detect ultra-realistic fake video. The consensus was bleak.
“There’s basically not much anyone can do right now,” Li said about automated detection tools.
The same conundrum faced the software company Adobe years ago when it became clear that its photo-editing program, Photoshop, was also being used for trickery. The company looked into including tools that could detect if an image had been doctored. But Adobe ultimately abandoned the idea, determining fraudsters could exploit the tool just as easily, said Kevin Connor, a former Adobe executive who now works with Farid.
“I think Photoshop is an overwhelmingly good thing,” Connor said. “But that doesn’t mean a good thing can’t be used for bad.”
Proponents of artificial video say fake imagery is an old problem that’s regularly debunked. Consider the doctored photo that emerged in 2004 of then-presidential candidate John Kerry with Jane Fonda at an anti-Vietnam War rally. Even an 1860 portrait of Abraham Lincoln turned out to be manipulated. The president’s body was replaced with a more heroic-looking John Calhoun.
The chances of stopping technology like computer-generated video from advancing is highly unlikely, experts say.
That means the onus is on those who read the news and those who report it to verify footage the best they can. Students at a young age also need to be taught how to wade through news sources critically, said Nonny de la Pena, an early practitioner of immersive journalism, which often leans on virtual reality.
“To shy away from technology because of fears it can be dangerous is a huge mistake,” she said. “Technology is scary. You’re going to have negative consequences. But the positive potential far outweighs the bad.”
Computer-generated avatars could bolster communication by bringing the subtleties of body language into digital conversation, said Pinscreen’s Li.
“It’s not our purpose to create a technology that people can use for evil,” said Li, who also teaches and conducts research at USC.
Pinscreen’s photo-realistic avatar technology isn’t publicly available yet. The company, which operates out of a Wilshire Boulevard high-rise, is primarily focused on an app that turns ordinary selfies into animated 3-D avatars.
Li, 37, had a hand in developing the technology Apple used to make animojis. The cartoon creature avatars use augmented reality sensors in the iPhone X’s camera to move in tandem with a user’s face.
Li said he’s received overtures from large tech companies about acquiring Pinscreen, but turned them down. He envisions building his own social media app where users can communicate with their playful avatars in computer-generated backdrops.
“The main difference between what we do and Instagram and Snapchat or Facebook is they basically track your face and add things to it,” Li said of the apps’ augmented reality filters. “Our aim is to build an entire CG world.”
BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s prime minister says that “Christianity is Europe’s last hope” and that politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris favoring migration have “opened the way to the decline of Christian culture and the advance of Islam.”
Viktor Orban said Sunday during his 20th annual state of the nation speech that his government will oppose efforts by the United Nations or the European Union to make migration acceptable to the world.
He conjured the image of a Western Europe overtaken by Muslims, saying that “born Germans are being forced back from most large German cities, as migrants always occupy big cities first.”
Orban claimed that Islam would soon “knock on Central Europe’s door” from the west as well as the south.
Orban will seek a third consecutive term in an April election.Source: Hungarian leader calls Christianity ‘Europe’s last hope’
A voodoo ceremony set to take place at an upcoming Fashion Week show has raised some issues — flummoxing producers more used to managing clothing racks than constructing “voodoo poles” and the raising questions about the legality of acquiring a machete in New York City.
Designers XULY.Bët, Mimi Prober and Hogan McLaughin are combining their shows on Thursday and conducting the paean to two voodoo spirits, Ezili Dantor and Ezili Freda who, we’re told, together represent the “perfect feminine whole” in the religion.
The group — which includes XULY.Bët designer Lamine Kouyate, who was born in Mali — has been inspired by the #MeToo movement and anger about Donald Trump’s “s—hole countries” remark.
New Orleans voodoo priestess Sallie Ann Glassman has flown in (presumably on a plane, but who knows) for the occasion at Industria and a group of Haitian spiritual drummers will be lead by Atibon Legba.
It was put together by People’s Revolution founder, TV personality and amateur witch Kelly Cutrone, who told us she consulted her lawyer before sourcing the machete traditionally carried by Ezili Dantor.
“[The lawyer] replied, ‘I have represented clients with brass knuckles, gravity knives, hunting knives, guns, automatic weapons and even a musket but never a machete — let’s keep it that way.’”
Cutrone told us, “We’re a group of pagans, Jews, witches and voodoo practioners trying to do something for feminism and the retail business.”
Source: #MeToo inspires voodoo-themed show at NYFW | Page Six
President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted the strong stock market performance since his election victory as proof of his success.
Detractors may point to the Dow Jones industrial average’s recent stumbles, but the benchmark index has much further to fall before Trump’s postelection gains are gone.
The Dow declined by 1,175 points, or down 4.6 percent on Monday.
From its high on Jan. 26 at 26,616.71, the benchmark index has declined nearly 2,300 points or 8.5 percent through Monday’s close at 24,345.75.
Trump still has a big cushion. The Dow closed at 18,332.74 on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016, which means it has 6,013 points to go before the Trump rally gains disappear.
After Monday’s market close, the White House said Trump is focused on the country’s “long-term economic fundamentals, which remain exceptionally strong.”
Trump Derangement Syndrome has reached a disturbing new low.
During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, the president honored an undeniable hero — a kind and caring New Mexico police officer who stepped up to save a child about to be born, and her desperate, homeless, opioid-addicted mother.
It was a three-hanky anecdote, made all the more vital because it concerned a drug-damaged, impoverished woman and the law enforcement officer who protected her, a man more likely to be treated with contempt these days than with the respect and love he deserves.
The feel-good moment didn’t last.
Within hours, the hard left got hold of the inspirational story and mangled it into a cautionary tale about Republican misogyny, mistreatment of the poor and a handmaid forced to reproduce against her will, human roadkill in the evil war on drugs. No mention was made of innocent children maimed by drugs and parental neglect. It was dizzying.
It started when President Trump introduced Ryan Holets, a 27-year-old Albuquerque cop, his wife and adorably snoozing adopted infant daughter. He told how the lawman encountered a homeless woman, eight months pregnant, preparing to shoot heroin into a vein. He stopped her.
When the officer “told her she was going to harm her unborn child,’’ said Trump, “she began to weep.’’
He continued, “She told him she didn’t know where to turn, but badly wanted a safe home for her baby.’’
The cop “felt God speak to him,’’ said Trump, and showed the mom-to-be a photo of his four children and wife, Rebecca. The couple then provided the “safe home’’ that the pregnant woman craved for her baby, taking in the little girl and naming her Hope.
A heartwarming, happy ending? Apparently not in Trump- and police-hating Bizarro World.
Writing in Slate, Christina Cauterucci declared that Trump’s words, “if you happened to be only half-listening, kind of sounded like it glorified a police officer for stealing somebody’s baby.’’
And “the slippery ethics of this anecdote are a handy crystallization of the principles of the GOP, which treats women as mere tools of reproduction.’’
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Elizabeth Bruenig argued that keeping the government money spigot flowing is the best way to solve intractable societal ills, such as drug use. And, in a spectacularly stupid New York Times op-ed, Jennifer Weiner equated the case of the cop, the pregnant woman and the full syringe to the battle against abortion rights.
“In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump told us exactly who the modern-day abortion opponents are — and exactly what they think of women,’’ she began.
Pro-lifers, she wrote, “can argue that the only difference between an embryo, a newborn baby, and a kidney patient on dialysis is age, size, location and circumstance,’’ she wrote, apparently reasoning that the mother had no choice but to give birth (and maybe to use drugs).
She argued that Trump’s failure to mention the mother by name (forget privacy) fuels the anti-abortion movement’s zeal to dehumanize pregnant women. Or something.
“In order to make abortion illegal, abortion opponents have to change our minds,’’ she wrote. “They have to get Americans to believe that a fetus or an embryo is the same as a baby, only smaller and that a mother doesn’t matter as much as that ‘pre-born’ baby does. If, in fact, she emerges from their rhetorical sausage grinder as barely a person at all, that’s all to the good.’’
And so, she perverted the officer’s beautiful gesture into an attack on women’s rights.
Now, I’m a fierce champion of a woman’s right to choose abortion. It’s non-negotiable. And yet, I’m not so blinded by hatred of the right to see that this has nothing to do with a sinister attempt to enslave women. The mother here was clearly determined to give birth and to place her child in a stable, drug-free home, which she did.
In an interview with CNN in December, the woman identified herself as Crystal Champ, 35, who lived in a tent with her partner, Tom Key, and suffered through continual drug relapses. But Officer Holets didn’t give up on her. He started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the couple, and reported that they entered rehab, and are doing well. Baby Hope was born addicted to drugs, went through withdrawal, but is, blessedly, now gaining weight.
All this was achieved not through a government handout, nor the left’s fixation on supporting the mother’s rights — to get high, I suppose — but through the generosity of one family and of strangers.
This should be applauded, celebrated, copied. Not demonized.