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After viral deepfake, Pope Francis is highlighting the use of AI at G7 summit

A report from deepfake detection company Sensity found that politicians and celebrities were the most targeted by the AI feature.
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Posted at 5:07 PM, Jun 13, 2024

Pope Francis became an internet sensation after images circulated online showing him rocking a white Balenciaga puffer coat. The image gained worldwide attention, but it was fake — artificially generated — along with a slew of other unexpected scenarios most wouldn't expect from a pontiff.

Though the fake images of the pope were relatively innocuous, there is a real danger in artificial intelligence for global leaders and diplomacy.

For the first time in history, the pope will attend the ongoing G7 summit in Puglia, Italy, where he will participate in a session on AI. The Vatican said in a statement that he will deliver a speech and participate in bilateral meetings with global leaders like President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Helen Zhang, a former Australian diplomat who now works in the office of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, says she's not surprised Pope Francis wants to engage world leaders on this topic.

"I think he says that we need to sort of put guardrails around AI to ensure that we are not only leveraging its benefits but also protecting society from its downsides, like disinformation and misinformation, particularly in this world today, this year, when we've seen half of the world go to the polls and the election booths," said Zhang. "I think this pope has been very forward-leaning in a lot of these progressive issues, including AI. So, I'm confident that having him weigh in on AI means that the rest of the world is also thinking about this beyond a sort of abstract issue."

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A report from deepfake detection company Sensity found that politicians are targeted most frequently of any group they tracked at nearly 40%. Celebrities are the next most targeted at 29.45%, and businesses at 19.65%. In this context, deepfakes can be used to manipulate public opinion, discredit political opponents and influence election outcomes.

Zhang says deepfakes have already affected issues that the G7 leaders are focused on.

"We've seen deepfakes, in particular, [they] have been a problem in democratic countries, which heavily rely upon their constituents, but maybe their constituents don't have as much digital literacy as others," said Zhang. "So, I think deepfakes are very, I guess, wicked, as they say in sort of the technical space, to address because you want to balance the freedom of information with the idea of regulating disinformation like deepfakes."

Zhang says that some countries like South Korea have been very forward-leaning on cracking down on deepfakes and nonconsensual explicit imagery, but that others are figuring it out as they go.

She adds, "It's still very much a work in progress."