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Deep fakes: the evolution and use of the technology

Deep fakes: A scoping study of the evolution and use of the technology over time

There is a growing public debate and concern among key stakeholders in governments, civil liberty organizations and industry about the rapid proliferation of lifelike audio and video clips online of real people doing and saying things they never did or said. The so-called ‘deep fakes’ combine image manipulation with AI and machine learning algorithms to produce content that is as realistic as possible. Over the past 18 months, deep fakes have become associated with a range of social harms from revenge porn to the manufacture of political statements and the duping of CEOs to sign off large sums of money.

However, current debates are problematic in two ways. They are ahistorical and singular in the presentation of the technology as entirely new therefore divorced from its precursors in the form of image manipulation that originate with the advent of photography or its evolution in film production. The singularity is manifest in the neglect of the pioneering work done in the film to track and clone facial performances including the use of computer manipulations to bring dead actors back to life on the screen. The consequence is that current debates risk be skewed.

Our premise is that the technology is Janus-faced and both the sinister and entertaining need to be considered and historically located if governments looking to regulate are to moot appropriate responses.

Secondly, the academic debates are problematic. Most studies of deep fakes and their variants have been in computing and digital forensics and concerned with detection. Most social science/humanities studies on disinformation have focused on fake news as words rather than visuals and most film studies research on CGI has looked at animation rather than the cultural and social significance of the technology.

In mapping the evolving uses of the technology over time, we aim to contribute to current public debates on it and to set a foundation for more solid academic theorisation. We propose to set the basis for the work through a scoping study of existing source materials that support humanities and social science perspectives. 

Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Dr Anita Howarth
Dr Anita Howarth - Anita Howarth's research interests lie at the intersection of media/journalism and social justice issues, with a particular focus on how interactions of different political actors legitimize or challenge, resist or disrupt dominant perspectives. The nature of the research focus has led Anita to interdisciplinary research that draws on media/journalism studies, political thought and policy studies as well as sociology.  She is currently writing a monograph entitled Britain's Manufactured Migrant Crisis: A Visual Politics, that is due to be published by Taylor & Francis in late 2025 and as part of the primary analysis Anita has developed a new methodology to deal with uncertainties over what images are manipulated, reappropriated and recycled and which are not. The methodology underpins the research on a range of themes including: The performative politics of cruelty under the Conservative Government Challenging dominant narratives through cartoons and animation The visual strategies of the radical right. Other research themes include Political, media and public struggles over food whether it be GMOs, contamination and hunger/food banks. British policy and media responses to contemporary refugee crises home and overseas (including at Calais) Fake news, reappropriated images and hoax websites. Prior to entering academia, Anita worked as a journalist on the business press, online news sites and financial desk of a national newspaper

Related Research Group(s)

fruit waste

Global Lives - Research conducted in the Centre addresses the challenges facing society, helping to change the lives of people around the world by bringing economic, social and cultural benefits.

Partnering with confidence

Organisations interested in our research can partner with us with confidence backed by an external and independent benchmark: The Knowledge Exchange Framework. Read more.

Project last modified 11/06/2021