Weekend Roundup: Facebook Deepfake Killer, Google’s Top Searches

It’s the weekend! The holidays are ramping up, but the tech industry isn’t slowing down—this week, we had some of tech’s biggest companies attempting to tackle some very big issues, including deepfake detection and the future of social networks. Let’s jump in!  

You Can Help Kill Deepfakes for Good

Ask a cybersecurity researcher about rising threats, and they might mention deepfake videos, which use artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine-learning tools to replace someone’s face or body within existing video footage. There are lots of examples of these videos online, and the technology has only grown more sophisticated over the past year or so. Just check out the heroic attempt to insert Nicolas Cage into every movie in existence:

As a company, Facebook knows that its platforms are a primary channel for the spreading of deepfakes, which means it’ll partially get the blame for any fake videos that end up causing social or political chaos. As a result, Facebook’s engineers have started the Deepfake Detection Challenge, which the accompanying web page describes as “an open, collaborative initiative to accelerate development of new technologies for detecting deepfakes and manipulated media.”

As part of that initiative, Facebook is offering up 100,000 deepfake videos: “Participants will use the data set to create new and better models to detect manipulated media, and results will be scored for effectiveness.” The videos include a wide range of actors, backgrounds, and poses. Those researchers who develop code that does particularly well at detecting deepfakes can take a chunk of the $1 million in prizes that Facebook is offering up. 

Kaggle will host the challenge, which will run through March 2020. (Researchers will obviously need a Kaggle account to participate.) If you figure out a way to squish deepfakes, you might help save the world from a tide of fake, destructive videos (and Nic Cage-as-Thanos homages, per our headliner image).

Twitter Wants to Decentralize

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey wants to do something radical with the social network: Decentralize it. If his plan succeeds (and supposedly the company has an internal research group exploring what exactly a “decentralized” Twitter would look like), it would represent a sea change of sorts: In order to condense its users onto a single (ad-monetized) platform, Twitter spent years stripping away developers’ ability to do whatever they wanted with its features (which led to the death of third-party clients that a lot of folks loved). If this plan comes to pass, developers will suddenly have a lot of power over Twitter again.

In a lengthy Tweetstorm, Dorsey suggested that decentralizing Twitter could help with a variety of issues, including content moderation. As a model, he’s looking toward the blockchain: “New technologies have emerged to make a decentralized approach more viable. Blockchain points to a series of decentralized solutions for open and durable hosting, governance, and even monetization. Much work to be done, but the fundamentals are there.”

Would a decentralized Twitter be a more welcoming place? Could people truly carve out interesting online communities? Or would this decentralization ultimately make Twitter fritz into the purest chaos? Jack wants to find out!  

Google’s Most-Searched Terms

It’s that time of year again: Google issued its list of the year’s most-searched terms, and the results were, uh, a little depressing in some ways. Of course “Baby Yoda” was a top search, given the current cultural obsession over the pint-sized Jedi’s appearance in the Disney+ TV show “The Mandolorian,” and it’s likewise unsurprising that “Avengers: Endgame” was the top Googled movie.

But let’s look at the top “What is…?” queries. Here’s that list:

  • What is Area 51?
  • What is a VSCO girl
  • What is momo
  • What is a boomer
  • What is quid pro quo

“What is Area 51?” Didn’t anyone grow up watching “The X-Files”? That’s it, the United States officially needs to turn in its geek credentials. 

“What is a Boomer?” Didn’t anyone have parents or grandparents from the Baby Boomer generation? (If you did, they’ll let you know it!)

In all seriousness, though, this annual Google list is a fascinating peek into what’s on Americans’ minds, and which news stories or cultural elements compelled them to do further research. If you have some free time this weekend, and the term “Area 51” doesn’t ring a bell, take some time to do a Google search—and get a look at them aliens.

Have a great weekend, everyone!