Help. The political process is corrupted, full of lies and state-sponsored deep fakes. Now Microsoft’s to the rescue

With a US presidential election nearly upon us, the past week has seen a worrying jump in the number of lies, misinformation and state-sponsored efforts to sow discontent.

The most notable examples have seen doctored videos pushed and published through social media, including one that appears to show Democratic candidate Joe Biden asleep during an interview, and another in which words were added to a journalists’ interview, again with Joe Biden, to give a completely different context.

And then there were the hundreds of Twitter accounts purportedly owned by young Black men who all decided to explain at the exact same time and in the exact same words why they had decided to switch from Democrat to Republican.

But don’t throw up your arms in despair at the corruption of the political process and the willingness of mainstream politicians to amplify lies and misinformation because here comes an information superhero, a fearless warrior, a technological defender of the truth! Yes, Microsoft has come out fighting for democracy! All is saved!

Well, in theory.

“Today, we’re announcing two new technologies to combat disinformation,” the company announced in a blog post on Tuesday. “We’re announcing Microsoft Video Authenticator.”

And what, pray tell, is this snappily titled tech? “Video Authenticator can analyze a still photo or video to provide a percentage chance, or confidence score, that the media is artificially manipulated. In the case of a video, it can provide this percentage in real-time on each frame as the video plays. It works by detecting the blending boundary of the deepfake and subtle fading or greyscale elements that might not be detectable by the human eye.”

Dataset and match

It that wasn’t exciting enough, it was built using AI – yes, artificial intelligence – and everyone knows AI works flawlessly. “Video Authenticator was created using a public dataset from Face Forensic++ and was tested on the DeepFake Detection Challenge Dataset, both leading models for training and testing deepfake detection technologies,” Microsoft reveals.

OK, great, so that’s the problem with deep fakes dealt with. What else? Wait, what’s that Microsoft?

mouse

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“As all AI detection methods have rates of failure, we have to understand and be ready to respond to deepfakes that slip through detection methods.” Slip through? How are they going to slip through when we have the company that made Windows Vista in charge?

“We expect that methods for generating synthetic media will continue to grow in sophistication,” it notes. “Thus, in the longer term, we must seek stronger methods for maintaining and certifying the authenticity of news articles and other media. There are few tools today to help assure readers that the media they’re seeing online came from a trusted source and that it wasn’t altered.”

Great, what a waste of everyone’s time. But wait one second, I can see Satya Nadella with his hand up the back there – yes, what is it?

“Today, we’re also announcing new technology that can both detect manipulated content and assure people that the media they’re viewing is authentic.”

So how does this one work and what incredibly dull name have you created for it? “This technology has two components. The first is a tool built into Microsoft Azure that enables a content producer to add digital hashes and certificates to a piece of content.”

OK, I think I see where this is going… “The second is a reader – which can exist as a browser extension or in other forms – that checks the certificates and matches the hashes, letting people know with a high degree of accuracy that the content is authentic and that it hasn’t been changed, as well as providing details about who produced it.”

Come inside the walled garden

Right, so we can put an end to manipulated video so long as everyone uses Microsoft software for fingerprinting their video and everyone else adds a Microsoft browser extension or some other program to read it. Terrific.

But then this is the New Improved Microsoft so they’re going to be a little bit honest while trying to lock you into their universe. “No single organization is going to be able to have meaningful impact on combating disinformation and harmful deepfakes.

“We will do what we can to help, but the nature of the challenge requires that multiple technologies be widely adopted, that educational efforts reach consumers everywhere consistently and that we keep learning more about the challenge as it evolves.”

And so to deal with the fact Microsoft doesn’t control everything with do with our technology, it has decided to “partner” with the AI Foundation and its Reality Defender 2020 (RD2020) initiative and “make Video Authenticator available to organizations involved in the democratic process, including news outlets and political campaigns.”

Where do we get it? “Video Authenticator will initially be available only through RD2020, which will guide organizations through the limitations and ethical considerations inherent in any deepfake detection technology.”

We can’t help but notice that Microsoft didn’t even pull off an easy Star Wars R2D2 reference. It was right there, friends.

It’s also “partnered” with the BBC, CBC, New York Times and others to “test our authenticity technology and help advance it as a standard that can be adopted broadly.” Which is great, and we applaud you Microsoft, but let’s be honest, until Fox News and Facebook are on board, we will have to continue screaming into the void. ®

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