CEO DailyCFO DailyBroadsheetData SheetTerm Sheet

This moon landing video is fake

August 7, 2020, 2:33 PM UTC

Former Richard Nixon sounds pained as he delivers the speech that he probably dreaded ever giving. In somber tones, Nixon reveals that the Apollo 11 moon landing mission has failed and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin have been lost.

“In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood,” Nixon says in a video of the speech. “Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.”

No, you say, Armstrong and Aldrin weren’t lost—they made it to the moon and back again. “One small step for man” and all that. What in the world is this Nixon video?

Turns out it is a fake, a deepfake, as we now call A.I.-manipulated media. MIT’s Center for Advanced Virtuality created the false Nixon video using an A.I. app that combines real footage with an actor’s reading of an unused speech that was actually prepared in case tragedy struck. The video, titled In the Event of Moon Disaster, was cooked up last year, but the MIT team put it online this week to mark the 51st anniversary of the July 20, 1969 moon landing.

The MIT team says it’s meant to serve as a warning of the coming wave of impressively realistic deepfake false videos about to hit us that use A.I. to convincingly reproduce the appearance and sound of real people (you may remember this deepfake of former President Obama from a few years ago).

“It’s our hope that this project will encourage the public to understand that manipulated media plays a significant role in our media landscape, and that with further understanding and diligence we can all reduce the likelihood of being unduly influenced by it,” project co-leader Halsey Burgund says in a statement accompanying the video.

But my fear is just the opposite. Making such a convincing false video is an encouraging road map for those who would pollute the public discourse with deepfake “evidence.” Reuters recently uncovered deepfake photos of a freelance op-ed writer who seemingly doesn’t exist, for instance. Strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for the truth over the next few years.

Aaron Pressman

@ampressman

aaron.pressman@fortune.com

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by David Z. Morris. Check out The Ledger, the fintech newsletter he edits weekly.

NEWSWORTHY

Facebook (finally) slaps down disinformation trolls. Late Thursday, Facebook announced that it was banning hundreds of accounts that were part of a foreign "troll farm." The fake accounts posed as Black supporters of Donald Trump and supporters of the unhinged Qanon conspiracy theory, which the President and his allies have repeatedly referenced. Accounts associated with far-right website The Epoch Times were also banned. The bans came just one day after Facebook, for the first time, deleted a post by President Trump that contained misinformation about the coronavirus. 

Blackstone Group to buy Ancestry.com for $4.7 billion. The private equity firm announced late Thursday that it will buy Ancestry.com for a reported $4.7 billion. The deal represents a big (huge) bet on consumer DNA services, which can both help trace family trees and identify potential health risks. Blackstone may be shouldering a lot of risk, though—privacy concerns have begun to erode consumer appetite for products like Ancestry’s, and Ancestry in March laid off a substantial number of staff.

Nintendo turns a billion-dollar profit. When is a story about coronavirus? When it’s about Animal Crossing, apparently. The mobile game sold 10.6 million copies for Nintendo, helping the Japanese videogame titan pull off its best Q2 in 12 years. Sales of the Switch platform also surged so sharply amid global lockdowns that brief shortages and eBay flippers emerged.

Google discontinues Pixel 4 before announcing next generation. Google has announced the discontinuation of the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4XL, its flagship phones. Strangely, this comes just ten months after the phones were released. Google says it is sold out of inventory of its fourth generation phones, though some might still be available at retailers. Gizmodo reasonably speculates that the surprising move may be due to global supply chain disruptions. Google has said the Pixel 5 is on its way this fall, but it’s unknown when.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

‘[I]t’s really almost very hard to get commercial flights back [to Nebraska],’ LaPierre explained, and his niece’s husband ‘had to get back to work.’

This is from a sprawling complaint filed yesterday by New York Attorney General Laetitia James against NRA leadership. In this section, CEO Wayne LaPierre explained why he frequently chartered private jets to fly his niece and her husband to and from Nebraska using NRA funds—in one case, to babysit the couple’s children while the niece worked on NRA business.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Facebook deletes a Trump post for the first time ever By Barbara Ortutay

Can startups that tackle healthcare scale globally? By Jonathan Vanian

You car’s autopilot isn’t as good as you think By Tom Krisher

What would it be like if the internet suddenly went dark? By Robert Hackett

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

Many poll workers are older, and will be rightly taking precautions against coronavirus this November. That leaves a huge need for younger or low-risk volunteers to replace them, since a lack of poll workers can cause voting delays. Axios has assembled an interactive map with information on how to volunteer in every state.