AI-generated porn uses pictures of real sexual abuse for its deepfakes

By Harriet Piercy

Updated Jun 1, 2023 at 01:48 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Remember the website This Person Does Not Exist which, when visited, greeted browsers with the face of a stranger, one that would then completely change when the page was refreshed with a new stranger’s face? Those faces were  all deepfakes developed by algorithms, hence the name of the website. Since it appeared, there has been an influx in computer-generated images. The creator of This Person Does Not Exist, Phil Wang, made the site using a new development in machine learning called Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN). GAN forces two data sets to compete with each other in a game, encouraging each strand to learn from the other’s mistakes.

To train GAN, you feed it images of things you would like to generate more of, and it then simultaneously tries to generate images and learns how to distinguish its own images from the real ones (so to stay true to the original form or idea, in a sense).

As with many AI models, GANs require a large amount of data—the more data, the more variation. As a concept, this is both interesting and potentially useful, depending on what GAN is used for. However, collections of naked women that have been collected from porn production companies are being used to generate deepfake porn. The porn production companies involved in this new problematic doing have also previously been accused of forcefully coercing women to have sex on camera without their consent. Just so you can get an idea of the characters we’re dealing with here.

Deepfakes porn

The dataset that is circulating in deepfake porn creation communities online includes images scraped from the porn production company Czech Casting in particular, which local police have accused of human trafficking and rape as well as trafficking still images from other porn sites. Czech Casting’s founder is currently a fugitive on the FBI’s most-wanted list.

Much like This Person Does Not Exist, the dataset is being used to create photorealistic images of women, but nude, who aren’t real and who all don’t look like any one person. Essentially, it’s porn generated entirely by AI: deepfakes porn, or deepnudes as we once named the same concept. Because of this, these algorithmically-generated images that are created aren’t technically doing much harm as they are not ‘real people’. However, legal experts, technologists and the women included in the datasets describe these creations as uniquely dehumanising.

Honza Červenka, a lawyer at the McAllister Olivarius law firm who specialises in revenge porn and technology has been following Czech Casting’s case. He told Vice that the idea of these images being less harmful because of being run through an algorithm makes them “anonymised” is a red herring. He said that “It’s mad science really, and completely and utterly re-victimizing to the victims of the Czech Casting perpetrators.”

The Czech Casting case does not stand alone, as it is simply impossible for technology to reverse in its tracks, meaning that this technology will undoubtedly develop. For now, GAN is incapable of generating videos similar to real porn videos, the best it can do is generate images. Going forward, there are several issues associated with algorithmic-generated porn. In the long run though, the difference between real and computer-generated videos will shrink until AI-generated porn potentially becomes mainstream.

The future of AI-generated porn

Studio-made pornography may still exist, but it might become more of a niche interest for people who want to watch ‘real people have real sex’ instead of computer-generated videos. Recruitment agencies and production companies might start to lean towards companies that are involved in this AI-generated pornography and possibly provide them with data.

A huge issue with the algorithms used to create this kind of porn is that because programming is variable, the technology has the worrying potential of being used to target people, within any criteria. The algorithm can only produce things that it has seen before though, as this is how GAN generates data, however, the potential remains.

Computer scientist and co-founder of SketchDeck, David Mack, attempted to build an AI that generated porn and wrote an article on his experience. In it, he reflected on the fact that on a macro scale, if his project were a success, it had the potential to change the world. “Many people are harmed in the production of pornography, and this project (given the very low cost of producing new images) would supplant them. Pornography would harm fewer people.”

However on the other side, he wrote that “this would displace workers and reshape an industry.” He concluded that he had struck a corner of hypocrisy within our society and technology. Pornography is a major part of the internet’s usage and people’s daily lives, this new technology could potentially improve the darker and more dangerous sides to the porn industry, such as sexual abuse and trafficking.

All in all, there are benefits to the idea, but while the porn industry abuses the women within it, like in the Czech Casting case among others, the negatives outride the benefits—without a fully ethical support system to generate the data for the project, its future remains unclear. One thing we know for sure is that this tech and the industries it circles within will move fast.

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