Zuckerberg deepfake video tests Facebook's rules

Can you tell this video is fake?

  • A new deepfake video shows Mark Zuckerberg saying words he never spoke.
  • The video was likely created in an attempt to challenge Facebook's policies on fake content.
  • Facebook was recently criticized for not removing a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was doctored to make it seem like she was drunk.


A new deepfake video shows Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg saying words he never spoke.

The video – posted to Instagram and created by artists Bill Posters and Daniel Howe with advertising company Canny – was based off of a real video of Zuckerberg from 2017. To create the deepfake, Canny trained a proprietary algorithm on a 21-second clip from the 2017 video, and also on a video of a voice actor reading a script. Visually, the result is convincing, even if the voice doesn't quite sound like Zuckerberg's.

"Imagine this for a second: One man, with total control of billions of people's stolen data, all their secrets, their lives, their futures," Zuckerberg's likeness says in the video, whose caption includes "#deepfake". "I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future."

(Spectre was an award-winning interactive art installation shown at the 2019 Sheffield Doc Fest in the United Kingdom.)

The video effectively tests Facebook's policy on removing misinformation from its platform. Facebook recently faced backlash for refusing to remove a video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was slowed down to make it seem like she was drunk. Facebook said it down-ranked the video to make it appear less frequently on newsfeeds and flagged it as fake.

Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, said it'd treat the Zuckerberg deepfake like the Pelosi video. "If third-party fact checkers mark it as false, we will filter it from Instagram's recommendation surfaces like Explore and hashtag pages," Stephanie Otway, a spokeswoman for the company, told the New York Times.

The team behind the Zuckerberg deepfake also created one of Kim Kardashian.

Deepfake technology has existed for years, but recently it's become sophisticated enough to fool some unsuspecting viewers. In May, Samsung researchers published a video describing a new AI that can take a single image of a person's face and animate it convincingly. If you're concerned about people weaponizing this technology, you're not alone: The Defense Department is already developing tools that aim to automatically detect deepfakes. But these tools might never be totally effective.

"Theoretically, if you gave a [generative adversarial network, which builds deepfake technology] all the techniques we know to detect it, it could pass all of those techniques," David Gunning, the DARPA program manager in charge of the Defense Department project, told MIT Technology Review. "We don't know if there's a limit. It's unclear."

Even if we could detect deepfakes, some viewers might not be eager to differentiate between real and fake – especially in politics. For example, President Donald Trump recently tweeted an altered video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was slowed down to make it seem as if she were drunk. The video remains on the president's Twitter account, despite reports confirming the video was altered, and it currently has more than 6 million views. It's unclear how many people know – or are willing to acknowledge – that it's fake content.

America has outgrown its ‘Judeo-Christian’ label. What’s next?

At one point, America needed to be called a Judeo-Christian nation. Now, with growing populations of Muslims, Evangelicals, Sikhs, Atheists, and other faiths, what should America call itself next?

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • America wasn't always known as Judeo-Christian nation. Rather, it used to be considered a Protestant nation.
  • As Jews and Catholics began to represent a larger share of the nation, activists realized that America needed to reinvent itself if the voices of these growing groups were to be heard. In this way, the "Judeo-Christian" label was conceived. Today, that label doesn't quite fit anymore. What does?
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Cambridge scientists create a successful "vaccine" against fake news

A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.

University of Cambridge
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
  • The study sample included 15,000 players.
  • The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
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