Should We Really Trust The 'South Park' Guys With Deepfake Technology?
Trey Parker and Matt Stone got so fed up from working with tediously fabricated puppets of celebrities and world leaders on Team America: World Police that now, almost twenty years later, they’re spending $20 million of investor money to cut out the middleman and create near-perfect deepfaked facsimiles of all their favorite punching bags.
Yesterday, the Southpark creators announced that their AI entertainment startup, Deep Voodoo, has secured a $20 million investment from the investment partnership Connect Ventures. Parker and Stone plan to use the small fortune to “accelerate Deep Voodoo’s development of its leading deepfake technology, cost-effective visual effects services and original synthetic media projects.”
Should the Southpark guys really be leading the charge of developing dangerously deceptive technology that could dramatically influence the future of democracy? We can barely trust them with cardboard.
Parker and Stone’s fascination with deepfake technology began in early 2020 when the duo assembled the team that became Deep Voodoo in order to produce a feature-length film about then-President Donald Trump using his own likeness as a character. The project was suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but Deep Voodoo was able to complete a 14-minute short called “Sassy Justice” which showed the former President’s face on Cheyenne, Wyoming’s cheekiest investigative reporter.
Said Stone of the decision to use deepfakes for comedy, “Everyone was so afraid of deepfakes (and) we just wanted to make fun of it because it makes it less scary." The short made light of the deceptive technology while taking shots at Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Jared Kushner and Southpark’s favorite political punching bag, Al Gore.
Though the short was as irreverent and juvenile as fans of the famed comedy duo could have hoped, it ended on a slightly sobering note, with reporter Fred Sassy telling his viewers, “Things aren’t always what they seem. You have to use your own noodle – you can’t let anyone sell you on anything, not an idea, not a product,” forlornly warning, “We’re all going to have to trust our gut, our inner voice. That’s all we have now.”
Now Parker and Stone are steeply accelerating the development of the technology that further endangers the public’s relationship with the truth. Maybe Stone and Parker hope that by steering the course of deepfake development towards entertainment, consumers will become accustomed to making gut checks whenever they see a video of some celebrity or politician saying or doing something questionable – Parker and Stone may feel that normalizing deepfakes in entertainment and educating audiences on their potency will lessen the technology’s efficacy in more surreptitious attempts at influencing political discourse.
Or maybe Parker and Stone just really want more people making videos of Joe Biden saying “vagina poop,” and they don't care if democracy is destroyed in the process.