Deepfake satellite imagery generated by artificial intelligence (AI) could be the latest front in the misinformation wars. Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a way to generate deepfake satellite photography using an AI algorithm as part of an effort to detect manipulated images.
As the technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated it is highlighting the concern that deepfake, bogus satellite imagery can have on national security.
The Verge notes that:
Such pictures could mislead in a variety of ways. They could be used to create hoaxes about wildfires or floods, or to discredit stories based on real satellite imagery. (Think about reports on China’s Uyghur detention camps that gained credence from satellite evidence. As geographic deepfakes become widespread, the Chinese government can claim those images are fake, too.) Deepfake geography might even be a national security issue, as geopolitical adversaries use fake satellite imagery to mislead foes.
The US military warned about this very prospect in 2019. Todd Myers, an analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, imagined a scenario in which military planning software is fooled by fake data that shows a bridge in an incorrect location. “So, from a tactical perspective or mission planning, you train your forces to go a certain route, toward a bridge, but it’s not there. Then there’s a big surprise waiting for you,” said Myers.
…there’s little doubt the AI-created fakes could be used for misinformation. A hostile country could send falsified images to mislead military strategists — they might not notice a missing building or bridge that could be a valuable target. Fakes could also be used for political aims, such hiding evidence of atrocities or suppressing climate science.
Researchers hope this work will help develop a system to catch satellite deepfakes in the same way that early work exists to spot human-oriented fakes. However, it might be a race against time — it didn’t take long for early deepfake tech to escape from academia into the real world, and that might well happen again.