SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Todd Helmus (Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND) as part of its SMA General Speaker Series.
Deepfakes are becoming a more frequent feature in today’s modern information environment. Their increasing prevalence and quality are becoming a threat to society. Dr. Helmus commented that deepfakes are directly contributing to an ongoing modern phenomenon called truth decay. Even images and videos that have traditionally been strong forms of accreditation for information can now be called into question. Social consequences of deepfakes include election manipulation, lower trust in journalism, and an increasing vulnerability of the most likely victims. Likely victims of deepfakes include women who can be exploited by having their faces placed on an actress of an adult video. AI programs, such as DALL-E, can be used to create convincing images from simple text commands.
Despite the ease at which deepfakes can be made, most fakes are shallow fakes, which are cheap, easy to make, and easy to identify. High-quality deepfakes cost thousands of dollars and take months to create; however, they are very convincing. Dr. Helmus emphasized that if a high quality deepfake can be planned at least two months in advance, then it may have a strong impact on a political election. There are several measures that can be taken to protect against, counter, and identify deepfakes. These measures include new government regulations, increasing media literacy, effective journalism, and strong provenance. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has already allocated millions of dollars to identifying and combating deepfakes.
Dr. Todd C. Helmus is a senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation and a member of the Pardee RAND Graduate School faculty. He specializes in disinformation, terrorism, and social media. Dr. Helmus’ latest research focuses on ways to counter Russian disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe and assess the impact of international counter violent extremism campaigns. His research also focuses on preventing violent extremism in the US military, identifying ways to enlist key influencers in support of US strategic communications, and detecting and countering online conspiracy theories. Dr. Helmus has served as a deployed advisor to US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and led studies on US efforts to train Afghan special operations forces. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Wayne State University.