Forget AI Tom Cruise, experts are worried about deepfake satellites

Deepfakes can be hilarious. They can also be dangerous. Now, geographers are concerned.


April 30, 2021

Are those circles real? (Source: DigitalGlobe / ScapeWare3d / Getty Images)

When a TikTok of Tom Cruise doing magic went viral earlier this year, people quickly discovered the real magic was that the videos weren’t actually of Tom Cruise.

They were deepfakes — AKA an impersonator was wearing an AI-generated Tom Cruise face mask.

Understandably, security experts have warned about the dangers of deepfake tech falling into the wrong hands.

Now, geographers are worried, too

A team from the University of Washington recently created software that can both generate deepfake satellite imagery and, importantly, detect fakes.

It’s not a new problem for geographers either. “Paper towns” and “trap streets” are fake markers that cartographers use to catch map plagiarizers.

But today’s geographic deepfakes are harder to detect. Think:

  • Deepfake satellite imagery of natural disasters
  • A fake bridge, building, mountain, or river to trick military planners

Nonetheless, the deepfake business is growing

Deepfake app Avatarify (not pronounced “ava-terrify”) saw users generate 140m videos on its platform this year. Another app, Reface, raised $5.5m and has been downloaded 70m times since launching in January 2020.

A 2019 malaria awareness deepfake ad featured David Beckham speaking in 9 languages and quickly hit 400m impressions.

Only time will tell how deepfakes will balance comedy, utility, and security. While you wait, check out this deepfake of Mike Tyson and Snoop Dogg as Oprah and Gayle King.

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