Deepfakes are coming. We’re not ready.

If 2016 was the election of “fake news,” 2020 has the potential to be the election of “deepfakes,” the new phenomenon of bogus videos created with the help of artificial intelligence. It’s becoming easier and cheaper to create such videos. Soon, those with even a rudimentary technical knowledge will be able to fabricate videos that are so true to life that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the video is real.

In the era of conspiracy theories, disinformation and absurd denials by politicians staring down seemingly indisputable facts, it is only a matter of time before deepfakes are weaponized in ways that poison the foundational principle of democracy: informed consent of the governed. After all, how can voters make appropriate decisions if they aren’t sure what is fact and what is fiction? Unfortunately, we are careening toward that moment faster than we think.

Deepfakes are created by something called a “generative adversarial network,” or GAN. GANs are technically complex, but operate on a simple principle. There are two automated rivals in the system: a forger and a detective.