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Creator of Tom Cruise Deepfakes Wants to Help, Not 'Upset'

Chris Ume wants to make sure manipulated imagery isn't weaponized as misinformation
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 6, 2021 7:30 AM CST

(Newser) – If you've seen those TikTok videos of Tom Cruise doing magic tricks, playing golf, and telling anecdotes about Mikhail Gorbachev, you likely know they're not real. If you don't, you've been fooled by a deepfake, which is understandable, considering how well done the creations by Belgian visual effects artist Chris Ume are. Ume's clips—which use sophisticated editing techniques to make Cruise impersonator Miles Fisher look like the real deal—went viral after the two decided to "make a funny video" and then upload it to the @deeptomcruise TikTok account Fisher created for the occasion. "Two days later, he sends me a screenshot: 'Dude. Two and a half million views,'" Ume tells the Guardian. He notes they weren't trying to trick anyone or "upset people" with the videos, as even the account name should've given away what they were doing, and now Ume wants to assist in finding better ways to detect such imaging manipulation.

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That's because the videos are so good that experts fear the technology could soon be wielded to push misinformation. Ume's work is "a big step forward" and "very polished," UC Berkeley digital imaging forensics expert Hany Farid tells NBC News, adding he found it hard to find many of the usual discrepancies. He suggests future creators could weaponize these types of videos and images to pull off irresponsible stunts, using the example of someone creating a video of Jeff Bezos lamenting how Amazon stock profits have plummeted, leading to a market shift. Ume, for his part, tells the Guardian that, in just a few years' time, the average person may be able to create high-quality deepfakes using just a Snapchat filter—which is why he hopes for better labeling and detection software and more regulation, especially on social media. For now, though, Ume assures people it takes weeks to create deepfakes like this. "You can't do it by just pressing a button," he tells the Verge. (Read more deepfakes stories.)

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