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A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

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A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click


From the beginning, deepfakes, or AI-generated synthetic media, have primarily been used to create pornographic representations of women, who often find this psychologically devastating. The original Reddit creator who popularized the technology face-swapped female celebrities’ faces into porn videos. To this day, the research company Sensity AI estimates, between 90% and 95% of all online deepfake videos are nonconsensual porn, and around 90% of those feature women.

As the technology has advanced, numerous easy-to-use no-code tools have also emerged, allowing users to “strip” the clothes off female bodies in images. Many of these services have since been forced offline, but the code still exists in open-source repositories and has continued to resurface in new forms. The latest such site received over 6.7 million visits in August, according to the researcher Genevieve Oh, who discovered it. It has yet to be taken offline.

There have been other single-photo face-swapping apps, like ZAO or ReFace, that place users into selected scenes from mainstream movies or pop videos. But as the first dedicated pornographic face-swapping app, Y takes this to a new level. It’s “tailor-made” to create pornographic images of people without their consent, says Adam Dodge, the founder of EndTAB, a nonprofit that educates people about technology-enabled abuse. This makes it easier for the creators to improve the technology for this specific use case and entices people who otherwise wouldn’t have thought about creating deepfake porn. “Anytime you specialize like that, it creates a new corner of the internet that will draw in new users,” Dodge says.

Y is incredibly easy to use. Once a user uploads a photo of a face, the site opens up a library of porn videos. The vast majority feature women, though a small handful also feature men, mostly in gay porn. A user can then select any video to generate a preview of the face-swapped result within seconds—and pay to download the full version.

The results are far from perfect. Many of the face swaps are obviously fake, with the faces shimmering and distorting as they turn different angles. But to a casual observer, some are subtle enough to pass, and the trajectory of deepfakes has already shown how quickly they can become indistinguishable from reality. Some experts argue that the quality of the deepfake also doesn’t really matter because the psychological toll on victims can be the same either way. And many members of the public remain unaware that such technology exists, so even low-quality face swaps can be capable of fooling people.

To this day, I’ve never been successful fully in getting any of the images taken down. Forever, that will be out there. No matter what I do.

Noelle Martin, an Australian activist

Y bills itself as a safe and responsible tool for exploring sexual fantasies. The language on the site encourages users to upload their own face. But nothing prevents them from uploading other people’s faces, and comments on online forums suggest that users have already been doing just that.

The consequences for women and girls targeted by such activity can be crushing. At a psychological level, these videos can feel as violating as revenge porn—real intimate videos filmed or released without consent. “This kind of abuse—where people misrepresent your identity, name, reputation, and alter it in such violating ways—shatters you to the core,” says Noelle Martin, an Australian activist who has been targeted by a deepfake porn campaign.

And the repercussions can stay with victims for life. The images and videos are difficult to remove from the internet, and new material can be created at any time. “It affects your interpersonal relations; it affects you with getting jobs. Every single job interview you ever go for, this might be brought up. Potential romantic relationships,” Martin says. “To this day, I’ve never been successful fully in getting any of the images taken down. Forever, that will be out there. No matter what I do.”

Sometimes it’s even more complicated than revenge porn. Because the content is not real, women can doubt whether they deserve to feel traumatized and whether they should report it, says Dodge. “If somebody is wrestling with whether they’re even really a victim, it impairs their ability to recover,” he says.

Nonconsensual deepfake porn can also have economic and career impacts. Rana Ayyub, an Indian journalist who became a victim of a deepfake porn campaign, received such intense online harassment in its aftermath that she had to minimize her online presence and thus the public profile required to do her work. Helen Mort, a UK-based poet and broadcaster who previously shared her story with MIT Technology Review, said she felt pressure to do the same after discovering that photos of her had been stolen from private social media accounts to create fake nudes.

The Revenge Porn Helpline funded by the UK government recently received a case from a teacher who lost her job after deepfake pornographic images of her were circulated on social media and brought to her school’s attention, says Sophie Mortimer, who manages the service. “It’s getting worse, not better,” Dodge says. “More women are being targeted this way.”

Y’s option to create deepfake gay porn, though limited, poses an additional threat to men in countries where homosexuality is criminalized, says Ajder. This is the case in 71 jurisdictions globally, 11 of which punish the offense by death.

Ajder, who has discovered numerous deepfake porn apps in the last few years, says he has attempted to contact Y’s hosting service and force it offline. But he’s pessimistic about preventing similar tools from being created. Already, another site has popped up that seems to be attempting the same thing. He thinks banning such content from social media platforms, and perhaps even making their creation or consumption illegal, would prove a more sustainable solution. “That means that these websites are treated in the same way as dark web material,” he says. “Even if it gets driven underground, at least it puts that out of the eyes of everyday people.”

Y did not respond to multiple requests for comment at the press email listed on its site. The registration information associated with the domain is also blocked by the privacy service Withheld for Privacy. On August 17, after MIT Technology Review made a third attempt to reach the creator, the site put up a notice on its homepage saying it’s no longer available to new users. As of September 12, the notice was still there.

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A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing

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A bot that watched 70,000 hours of Minecraft could unlock AI’s next big thing


The researchers claim that their approach could be used to train AI to carry out other tasks. To begin with, it could be used to for bots that use a keyboard and mouse to navigate websites, book flights or buy groceries online. But in theory it could be used to train robots to carry out physical, real-world tasks by copying first-person video of people doing those things. “It’s plausible,” says Stone.

Matthew Gudzial at the University of Alberta, Canada, who has used videos to teach AI the rules of games like Super Mario Bros, does not think it will happen any time soon, however. Actions in games like Minecraft and Super Mario Bros. are performed by pressing buttons. Actions in the physical world are far more complicated and harder for a machine to learn. “It unlocks a whole mess of new research problems,” says Gudzial.

“This work is another testament to the power of scaling up models and training on massive datasets to get good performance,” says Natasha Jaques, who works on multi-agent reinforcement learning at Google and the University of California, Berkeley. 

Large internet-sized data sets will certainly unlock new capabilities for AI, says Jaques. “We’ve seen that over and over again, and it’s a great approach.” But OpenAI places a lot of faith in the power of large data sets alone, she says: “Personally, I’m a little more skeptical that data can solve any problem.”

Still, Baker and his colleagues think that collecting more than a million hours of Minecraft videos will make their AI even better. It’s probably the best Minecraft-playing bot yet, says Baker: “But with more data and bigger models I would expect it to feel like you’re watching a human playing the game, as opposed to a baby AI trying to mimic a human.”

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The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death

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The Download: AI conquers Minecraft, and babies after death


+ Scientists have found a way to mature eggs from transgender men in the lab. It could offer them new ways to start a family—without the need for distressing IVF procedures. Read the full story.  + How reproductive technology is changing what it means to be a parent. Advances could lead to babies with four or more biological parents—forcing us to reconsider parenthood. Read the full story.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Elon Musk wants to reinstate banned Twitter accounts
It’s an incredibly dangerous decision with widespread repercussions. (WP $) 
+ Recent departures have hit Twitter’s policy and safety divisions hard. (WSJ $)
+ It looks like Musk’s promise of no further layoffs was premature. (Insider $)
+ Meanwhile, Twitter Blue is still reportedly launching next week. (Reuters)
+ Imagine simply transferring your followers to another platform. (FT $)
+ Twitter’s potential collapse could wipe out vast records of recent human history. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Russia’s energy withdrawal could kill tens of thousands in Europe 
High fuel costs could result in more deaths this winter than the war in Ukraine. (Economist $)
+ Higher gas prices will also hit Americans as the weather worsens. (Vox)
+ Ukraine’s invasion underscores Europe’s deep reliance on Russian fossil fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

3 FTX is unable to honor the grants it promised various organizations 
Many of them are having to seek emergency funding to plug the gaps. (WSJ $)
+ Bahamians aren’t thrilled about what its collapse could mean for them. (WP $)

4 It’s a quieter Black Friday than usual
Shopping isn’t much of a priority right now. (Bloomberg $)
+ If you do decide to shop, make sure you don’t get scammed. (Wired $)

5 The UK is curbing its use of Chinese surveillance systems 
But only on “sensitive” government sites. (FT $)
+ The world’s biggest surveillance company you’ve never heard of. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Long covid is still incredibly hard to treat 
Its symptoms vary wildy, which can make it hard to track, too. (Undark)
+ A universal flu vaccine is looking promising. (New Scientist $)

7 San Francisco’s police is considering letting robots use deadly force
The force has 12 remotely piloted robots that could, in theory, kill someone. (The Verge)

8 Human hibernation could be the key to getting us to Mars 
It could be the closest we can get to time travel. (Wired $)

9 Why TikTok is suddenly so obsessed with dabloons 
It’s a form of choose-your-own-adventure fun. (The Guardian)

10 We can’t stop trying to reinvent mousetraps 🧀
There are thousands of versions out there, yet we keep coming up with new designs. (New Yorker $)

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We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?

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We can now use cells from dead people to create new life. But who gets to decide?


His parents told a court that they wanted to keep the possibility of using the sperm to eventually have children that would be genetically related to Peter. The court approved their wishes, and Peter’s sperm was retrieved from his body and stored in a local sperm bank. 

We have the technology to use sperm, and potentially eggs, from dead people to make embryos, and eventually babies. And there are millions of eggs and embryos—and even more sperm—in storage and ready to be used. When the person who provided those cells dies, like Peter, who gets to decide what to do with them?

That was the question raised at an online event held by the Progress Educational Trust, a UK charity for people with infertility and genetic conditions, that I attended on Wednesday. The panel included a clinician and two lawyers, who addressed plenty of tricky questions, but provided few concrete answers. 

In theory, the decision should be made by the person who provided the eggs, sperm or embryos. In some cases, the person’s wishes might be quite clear. Someone who might be trying for a baby with their partner may store their sex cells or embryos and sign a form stating that they are happy for their partner to use these cells if they die, for example. 

But in other cases, it’s less clear. Partners and family members who want to use the cells might have to collect evidence to convince a court the deceased person really did want to have children. And not only that, but that they wanted to continue their family line without necessarily becoming a parent themselves.

Sex cells and embryos aren’t property—they don’t fall under property law and can’t be inherited by family members. But there is some degree of legal ownership for the people who provided the cells. It is complicated to define that ownership, however, Robert Gilmour, a family law specialist based in Scotland, said at the event. “The law in this area makes my head hurt,” he said.

The law varies depending on where you are, too. Posthumous reproduction is not allowed in some countries, and is unregulated in many others. In the US, laws vary by state. Some states won’t legally recognize a child conceived after a person’s death as that person’s offspring, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). “We do not have any national rules or policies,” Gwendolyn Quinn, a bioethicist at New York University, tells me.

Societies like ASRM have put together guidance for clinics in the meantime. But this can also vary slightly between regions. Guidance by the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, for example, recommends that parents and other relatives should not be able to request the sex cells or embryos of the person who died. That would apply to Peter Zhu’s parents. The concern is that these relatives might be hoping for a “commemorative child” or as “a symbolic replacement of the deceased.”

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