With the ascent of artificial intelligence (AI), it's increasingly difficult to separate fictional images from authentic ones. That makes AI a tempting tool for all sorts of dishonest characters -- like politicians.
One of them has already embraced AI's truth-bending potential: Ron DeSantis's presidential campaign has circulated a video peppered with fake photos of Donald Trump hugging and kissing the controversial Dr. Anthony Fauci.
The video includes bona fide images of Trump, but experts say three others are almost certainly AI-generated deep-fakes. "Our results consistently output a decision that these images are fake," Drexel University electrical and computer engineering professor Matthew Stamm told Reuters after using a process to scour the images for artifacts of synthetic image generation.
After the fakery was reported, first by Agence France-Presse and then major US outlets, Trump allies were quick to condemn DeSantis.
I agree. Those fake AI campaign ads need to be taken down immediately. https://t.co/CEPPFGaV4V— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) June 8, 2023
Mounting an utterly flimsy defense, figures in the DeSantis circle implied the images were obviously fake -- disingenuously likening them to a video where the face of DeSantis was superimposed on the Michael Scott character in a scene from "The Office," and to a "photo" of DeSantis riding a rhinoceros -- and ignoring the fact that accompanying words on the screen say "REAL LIFE TRUMP."
Judge for yourself whether the images of Trump physically embracing Fauci -- which appear alongside real photos -- would be perceived as obvious fakes by casual viewers:
Donald Trump became a household name by FIRING countless people *on television*— DeSantis War Room 🐊 (@DeSantisWarRoom) June 5, 2023
But when it came to Fauci... pic.twitter.com/7Lxwf75NQm
Aside from representing a new form of dirty trick in politics, the fake images in the DeSantis campaign highlight growing concerns about AI's potential to leave citizens bewildered over what's real and what isn't.
“We will continue to see campaigns, state-sponsored actors, trolls and people who want to sow chaos use these fake images to drive their own agendas,” University of California, Berkeley professor Hany Farid told The New York Times.
His reference to "state-sponsored actors" sounds as if it were meant to evoke fears of mischief by adversaries of the US government, but any well-informed individual would rightly fear Washington's use of the technology too.
Farid pointed to telltale flaws in the three faked photos, including distortions in Trump's hair and ear, gibberish in what's supposed to be a White House seal, and a US flag with a strange star pattern. Those aren't readily detectable in the context of a social media video viewed on screens of varying sizes -- and as AI grows more powerful, such flaws will vanish.
In the Real Clear Politics average of GOP presidential primary polls, DeSantis trails Trump by more than 30 points -- with Trump at 53.2% and DeSantis at 22.4%.