This expert wrote a book on deepfakes ahead of the US election: 'Things will get worse before they get better'


Deepfake video technology is advancing more rapidly than many would have believed possible just a few years ago.

From politics to porn, experts around the world have warned of the threats posed by increasingly sophisticated AI-generated and manipulated videos – with fears they could mark an eerie new chapter in the battle against disinformation.

One author sounding the alarm is Nina Schick, a policy expert who only started writing her new book, "Deep Fakes and the Coming Infopocalypse", in February.

Nina Schick, author of "Deep Fakes and the Infopocalypse"
Nina Schick, author of "Deep Fakes and the Infopocalypse"
Octopus Books

"I had already put out a few mainstream articles on the topic," Schick told Business Insider. "Then suddenly the publisher got in touch and said: 'You should write a book about this. Can you do it in six weeks?'"

A former executive at the now-defunct Open Europe, a think tank focusing the UK's relationship with the EU, and later an adviser to Emmanuel Macron on his 2017 presidential campaign, Schick has seen the realities of electoral interference up close.

"Even though I wrote it very quickly, these ideas had been bouncing around in my head for almost a decade."

As COVID-19 forced countries around the world into lockdown – while spurring a wave of false information online – Schick says she couldn't help but notice a "perfect case study unfolding" before her eyes.

"Deep Fakes" reads at points like it could have been written in the past week, with a chapter on COVID-19, and a damning account of Donald Trump's "injecting disinfectant" gaffe.

Touching on everything from fake celebrity porn, through to the Trump campaign feed and the Russian annexation of Crimea, Schick's page-turner outlines how we've only just begun to scratch the surface of dodgy information online.

"Misinformation campaigns have a long history, and battling for a political narrative is not a new thing," Schick explains.

"But the boundaries have been completely upended by the new features of our information ecosystem. It's become that much easier for bad actors to infiltrate the conversation."

With ever more sophisticated deepfakes on the horizon, a number of initiatives have sprung up to try and curb the problem. In 2019, tech giants like Facebook and Google sponsored a $500,000 prize for deepfake detection tools, and a number of smaller firms are designing software to combat the problem.

With all this in mind, is the chronicler of the infopocalypse optimistic about the future?

"Oh, I'm terrified," Schick laughs.

"I think it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better," she adds. "But as the social and political realities begin to dawn on our representatives, I think we'll be able to get on top of it again.

"It just might take a few years."