Watch Jordan Peele use AI to make Obama talk about fake news

18 Apr 2018

Former US president Barack Obama speaking during an event in 2016. Image: Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

The technology has both astounded and frightened people in equal measure, but a new video highlights just how influential AI has become in news reporting.

Not so long ago – and even today – the authenticity of a piece of news was based on providing the evidence, be that an audio clip or a video of a person saying or doing something.

But the development of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and the proliferation of fake news has muddied the water considerably, raising serious doubts over the validity of a video, even if the person appears to be speaking complete nonsense.

That was the message that director and comedian Jordan Peele wanted to highlight in a recent video collaboration with BuzzFeed whereby he used the latest in AI technology to accumulate visual data of former US president Barack Obama speaking, and was able to make it look like he was saying what Peele was saying.

This included calling current US president Donald Trump “a total and complete dipshit”.

While by no means perfect, the expectation is that sooner rather than later, this technology will get to a point where it is indistinguishable from what the subject is really saying. Other technologies in development not only allow someone to imitate a mouth moving, but the voice itself.

Well documented by media outlets such as Radiolab, it is now possible for AI to churn through hours of audio of someone speaking and recreate their voice and speech pattern with incredible accuracy.

This can then be put through a program that allows someone to type anything, and the AI version of the data subject can repeat back whatever is said.

The purpose of this video, Peele made clear, is that in the age of fake news, whereby multiple falsehoods are posted on social and traditional media, such an ability could be catastrophic.

“It may sound basic, but how we move forward in the age of information is going to be the difference between whether we survive or whether we become some kind of fucked-up dystopia,” Peele said, imitating Obama.

Former US president Barack Obama speaking during an event in 2016. Image: Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic