The world’s top deepfake artist is wrestling with the monster he created
It’s June in Dalian, China, a city on a peninsula that sticks out into the Yellow Sea a few hundred miles from Beijing in one direction and from the North Korean border in the other. Hao Li is standing inside a cavernous, angular building that might easily be a Bond villain’s lair. Outside, the weather is sweltering, and security is tight. The World Economic Forum’s annual conference is in town.
Near Li, politicians and CEOs from around the world take turns stepping into a booth. Inside, they laugh as their face is transformed into that of a famous person: Bruce Lee, Neil Armstrong, or Audrey Hepburn. The trick happens in real time, and it works almost flawlessly.
The remarkable face-swapping machine wasn’t set up merely to divert and amuse the world’s rich and powerful. Li wants these powerful people to consider the consequences that videos doctored with AI—“deepfakes”—could have for them, and for the rest of us.