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Deepfakes and International Conflict

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Deepfakes and International Conflict

Brookings Institution,

5 min read
3 take-aways
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Technology makes disinformation – a staple of geopolitics and war – harder to detect and defend against.

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Long used in military and geopolitical engagements, disinformation campaigns are today vastly more complex, thanks to artificial intelligence, machine learning and sophisticated technologies. Writing for the Brookings Institution, four foreign policy and computer science scholars explore the architecture of “deepfakes” and assess how technology is transforming the practice of adversarial messaging and deceptive intelligence. Anyone interested in a robust examination of geopolitics in an AI world will discover some important insights in this illuminating report.


“Deepfake” attacks – which incorporate deception, misinformation and false intelligence in various types of data – are becoming more prevalent and complex.

The practice of false intelligence dissemination is nothing new: The ancient Romans spread nasty rumors about their leaders. But a 2022 episode at the start of the Ukraine conflict offers a new slant, thanks to technology. Russian actors fabricated a video message from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy instructing Ukrainians to surrender to Russian forces. While the Ukrainian government quickly countered the incorrect narrative, the deepfake showed its potential for damage.

Deepfakes get their name from the deep neural networks in machine learning. With these tools, actors can use “multimodal data” – text, audio, video and the like – as part of a “generative adversarial network” (GAN), a deep-learning algorithm. GANs, in use...

About the Authors

Daniel L. Byman is a professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where Chris Meserole is a foreign policy fellow. Chongyang Gao is a PhD student in computer science at Northwestern University, where V.S. Subrahmanian is a professor of computer science.

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