Tech

This open-source program lets you run deepfakes on live video calls

With some programming knowledge and solid hardware, you can use Avatarify to fake your Zoom calls... or someone else's.

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Since the inception of deepfakes, lawmakers and security analysts have warned the public about how these eerily realistic clips can lead to exploitation, misinformation, and manipulation across the web. But what if people are bored during quarantine and want to play make-believe with their very own faces? A programmer named Ali Aliev is using open source code through the "First Order Motion Model for Image Animation" for his own program Avatarify, Motherboard reports.

The face-swap technology allows the user to impose anyone else's face on their own — with the bonus that it can be done in real-time on any Zoom or Skype video call. For his own part, Aliev has successfully tried being Elon Musk in a call with his buddies.

Endless possibilities — In a YouTube demo uploaded on April 8, Aliev noted that Avatarify has "a neural network [...] that requires a GPU to run smoothly." It isn't working so well for Mac users right now, but Aliev notes that streamlining it to other operating systems is one of his future projects. Those who can run Avatarify alongside Zoom or Skype, he says in his video, can become anyone from Einstein to Eminem, Steve Jobs to Mona Lisa.

Umm cool, but why — It seems to have started out as some innocuous fun. According to Aliev, his plan was to play pranks on his friends. In a comment to Motherboard, Aliev explained:

I ran [the First Order Model] on my PC and was surprised by the result. What’s important, it worked fast enough to drive an avatar real-time. Developing a prototype was a matter of a couple of hours and I decided to make fun of my colleagues with whom I have a Zoom call each Monday. And that worked. As they are all engineers and researchers, the first reaction was curiosity and we soon began testing the prototype.

The programmer says that Avatarify is intended to provide entertainment, and requires "a powerful gaming PC" to work. But the program could go mainstream as it gradually becomes optimized for laptops. Aliev says that it's "just a matter of time."

Deepfakes combined with Zoombombing — Aliev's intentions might be in the right place — a little fun never hurt anyone under a lockdown — but with hackers Zoombombing remote work and school sessions, politicians able to buy ads saying whatever they want on Facebook, and plenty of Americans and Russian's willing to use whatever means necessary to ensure Trump gets re-elected, Avatarify could easily be used for nefarious ends. Fortunately, for the time being at least, it can't fake a voice. But that's likely just a matter of time, too.