Cybernews podcast #23: AI in the X-rated world

The AI boom has led to an epidemic of nonconsensual deepfake pornography. Cybernews journalists dive right into the topic in the newest episode of the Cybernews weekly podcast.

Last October, the shocking case of 15-year-old Francesca Mani and 30 other girls at a New Jersey school who were victimized by deepfake pornography made headlines. Schoolboys captured photos of the girls and used artificial intelligence to create explicit images without their consent. This distressing story, extensively covered by the MIT Tech Review, unfortunately, isn't as rare as it should be.

For this podcast episode, we decided to dive right into it – how AI has led to an epidemic of nonconsensual deepfake explicit imagery.

Francesca Mani’s story

When Niamh Ancell was conducting her research for her article Pandora's Box: AI in an X-rated world, she came across some of many victims of deepfake pornography – the story of female students at Westfield High School in New Jersey.

After rumors spread around the school of sexually explicit materials being crafted by boys at the school, all the girls feared that they would be victims of this AI assault.

The boys obtained the victims’ images without their consent and used artificial intelligence to manipulate them. Thus creating sexually explicit materials – and child sexual abuse materials at that.

It’s safe to say that these individuals felt devastated and violated. One of the victims, Francesca Mani, who was 15 at the time, spoke out against the injustice and called upon lawmakers to do something about this widespread issue.

Francesca got a bill for AI laws co-sponsored by New Jersey senators in the hope that the state would protect them from this kind of horrific activity. They aimed to have the bill running by January 2024.

NBC reported on Wednesday that a teenage victim of nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfakes joined Rep. Joe Morelle, D-N.Y., on Tuesday to advocate for a bipartisan bill that would criminalize sharing such material at the federal level.

In May, Morelle introduced the Preventing Deepfakes of Intimate Images Act. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, but no further action has been taken.

“In addition to criminalizing the nonconsensual sharing of sexually explicit deepfakes, the measure would also create a right of private action for victims to be able to sue creators and distributors of the material while remaining anonymous.”

The effects of deepfake pornography have real and devastating effects on victims. Many people have reportedly suffered from PTSD, thoughts of suicide, and other mental health issues that come with assault.

Is the AI boom to blame?

Apparently, this story is not that unique, as deepfake pornography has grown into something of an epidemic. An investigative report shared with WIRED documented the fact that deepfake videos skyrocketed last year. Over the first nine months of 2023, 113,000 videos were uploaded to websites – a 54% increase on the 73,000 videos uploaded in all of 2022.

Of course, creating your perfect woman by combining aspects of different women isn’t new. ‘Weird Science’ is a 1985 movie about two computer science students who manufactured their perfect woman.

“However, I think that the AI boom definitely has something to do with the massive amount of deepfake pornography available. AI has made more pornography accessible by personalizing content and allowing people to experience things they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience,” Niamh said.

This, of course, has its downsides, as a lot of AI-generated pornography is harmful to others and often non-consensual. The Guardian found that in 2019, 96% of deepfakes were pornographic. In 2023, it’s said that 98% of deepfakes are pornographic in nature.

Accessible to everyone

Revenge porn was a hideous trend long before AI came into the picture. But chances of falling victim to it were somewhat limited, especially if you never send nudes to your ex and if they were no good with photoshop. Now it seems like everyone is a target since you don’t really need to pose naked anymore.

Once a complex task, it’s become easy thanks to deepfake generator software such as Face Swap and Deep Face Lab.

However, some level of preparation needs to happen before you craft your deepfake. You need high-quality images of the person whose likeness you want to manipulate.

You can also use Google Collab and other services that can help you craft a deepfake image or video. Many different articles detail how you can create deepfakes.

But the easiest way for an amateur would be to use an application or a program, as deepfakes require a lot of time and energy to execute.

Silver lining

It’s not all grim news, there are some positive sides to AI being used in the industry. For example, AI algorithms can personalize content to provide tailored suggestions and can efficiently tag porn films. Just as streaming platforms like Netflix use AI, porn sites are also using this tool to help you see what you want to see.

AI can also monitor activity and help flag illegal or inappropriate content. AI could make the porn industry a much safer place if used effectively. Equally, certain websites are using AI to flag revenge porn and other harmful content. Sex toys have even been created using AI.

And there’s the curious story of Riley Reid, a porn actress who has created her chatbot Clona. She said: “Everyone knows the internet blew up because of adult entertainment. We’re going to have the same success with AI, because people want to connect and feel intimacy. I’m a private person. I don’t cam or do livestreams, so fans don’t normally have a way to connect with me. With AI, my fans can now talk for hours and really connect with me.”

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