It’s about to get a whole lot harder to differentiate fake news from real news because of new video technology. Fake news has been around for a long time, but the Internet and social media have made it easier than ever to spread misinformation. In 2017, fake news largely took the form of written word, strengthened by photos and the social media echo chamber. But with the advent of new video technology, we can expect to start seeing convincingly real fake videos popping up on Facebook and news sites. If seeing really is believing, the general public is about to have an even harder time determining what’s real and what’s not. 

Groundbreaking A.I. research in video allows developers to literally put words into people’s mouths, such as in this video of former President Barack Obama developed at The University of Washington. The amount of change and the speed at which it’s happening means that we will increasingly see this technology implemented within the next 3-5 years. As A.I. becomes easier and cheaper to use in video, fake video will become ubiquitous. 

It’s estimated that 82% of all consumer Internet traffic will be video by 2021. Because video screens dominate our daily lives, fake video has the ability to radically impact the way we see and receive information.

First, as mentioned above, A.I. video can put words into people’s mouths. This creates an opportunity for unethical journalists and Russian bots to fabricate videos from politicians, educators, and experts all at the push of a button. Facial and vocal expressions can be edited for emphasis. The final product will be indistinguishable from a genuine video. 

Second, any person can be placed into any setting, even if they were never there. Thanks to computer-generated imagery (CGI), deceased actors are already playing roles in blockbuster movies. Rogue One used CGI to digitally resurrect a character portrayed by an actor who passed away in 1994. It is guaranteed that this same technology will eventually be combined with A.I. in video.

Third, developers will be able to fabricate “people” who have never existed, thanks to improvements in A.I. technology that creates realistic images of fake people. The technology is still evolving, and the biggest challenge developers currently face is to effectively humanize these videos so that our brains accept them as genuine. 

The fusion of all these emergent technologies will eventually give developers the high-level programming they’re looking for, but will it give them the authenticity that humans desire?

The appearance of authenticity is crucial, and viewers look for it on a primal, biological, and neurological level. Our brain is wired to make quick assessments about whether people are friend or foe. Inauthenticity triggers a “foe” reaction. These assessments are often experienced as a gut feeling, even in instances when our more developed mind is able to override our discomfort. 

In order to successfully manufacture authenticity and create artificial humans capable of conveying genuine emotion, developers will have to incorporate 3,000 different facial expressions. These various expressions have been uncovered through the pioneering scientific work of psychologist Paul Ekman. Ekman’s discoveries show us just how nuanced and complex human facial expressions are. We are quickly approaching a point where video developers are becoming proficient at merging the art of video with the science of human facial expressions. It won’t be long before fake videos are humanized enough that the audience no longer reads them as inauthentic. 

Fake video certainly represents a danger to our society for obvious reasons, but it’s not all bad. For businesses, this new technology will bring with it some exciting opportunities to improve communications and express an authentic brand. It will mean that a busy executive can go into a studio and have photos and video clips done over the course of an hour to build up an arsenal of footage that can then be used to edit together personal video messages for employees, shareholders, clients, and others without the executives having to create a new video every time. Imagine: the head of a multinational corporation can instantly deliver good news to global employees in 60 languages. Creating authentic and powerful video communications will become faster and easier than ever before.

Outside of business, A.I. video represents other incredible opportunities. As we look 10-15 years down the line, this technology will become as ubiquitous and easy to use as word processing. On the day of a child’s graduation, parents will be able to manufacture a congratulatory video from a grandparent who has passed away. Activists will be able to create rousing speeches from historical figures that serve as relevant commentary on current events. 

The intersection of science, art, and business is driving the advancement of fake video technology at light speed. As fake videos burst onto the Internet, the responsibility will fall on viewers to determine what’s real, and to become savvier consumers. Ironically, Facebook and other websites will use artificial intelligence to help determine which videos are fabricated, but this system is not foolproof and the art of human discernment will be imperative. Trust will be an even more valuable commodity and the brands and leaders who do become trusted sources will inspire loyalty and authority.

The possibility for this technology to aid in human connection is limitless but it also has the potential to do a great deal of harm. How it gets used will be entirely up to us.


Veteran filmmaker, speaker, industry thought leader and author of Leadership in Focus Vern Oakley is CEO and creative director of Tribe Pictures, which he founded in 1986. Oakley has created films for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations, universities, and their leaders, including American Express, AT&T, Pfizer, Princeton, and NYU Law.