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Facebook scientists say they can tell where deepfakes come from


An example of a deepfake created by CNBC

Kyle Walsh

Artificial intelligence researchers at Facebook and Michigan State University say they have developed a new piece of software that can reveal where so-called deepfakes have come from.

Deepfakes are videos that have been digitally altered in some way with AI. They’ve become increasingly realistic in recent years, making it harder for humans to determine what’s real on the internet, and indeed Facebook, and what’s not.

The Facebook researchers claim that their AI software — announced on Wednesday — can be trained to establish if a piece of media is a deepfake or not from a still image or a single video frame. Not only that, they say the software can also identify the AI that was used to create the deepfake in the first place, no matter how novel the technique.

Tal Hassner, an applied research lead at Facebook, told CNBC that it’s possible to train AI software “to look at the photo and tell you with a reasonable degree of accuracy what is the design of the AI model that generated that photo.”

The research comes after MSU realized last year that it’s possible to determine what model of camera was used to take a specific photo — Hassner said that Facebook’s work with MSU builds on this.

‘Cat and mouse game’

Deepfakes are bad news for Facebook, which is constantly battling to keep fake content off of its main platform, as well as Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp. The company banned deepfakes in Jan. 2020 but it struggles to swiftly remove all of them from its platform.

Hassner said that detecting deepfakes is a “cat and mouse game,” adding that they’re becoming easier to produce and harder to detect.

One of the main applications of deepfakes so far has been in pornography where a person’s face is swapped onto someone else’s body, but they’ve also been used to make celebrities appear as though they’re doing or saying something they’re not.

Indeed, a set of hyper realistic and bizarre Tom Cruise deepfakes on TikTok have now been watched over 50 million times, with many struggling to see how they’re not real.

Today, it’s possible for anyone to make their own deepfakes using free apps like FakeApp or Faceswap.

Deepfake expert Nina Schick, who has advised U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, said at the CogX AI conference on Monday that detecting deepfakes isn’t easy.

In a follow up email she told CNBC that Facebook and MSU’s work “looks like a pretty big deal in terms of detection” but stressed that it’s important to find out how well deepfake detection models actually work in the wild.

“It’s all well and good testing it on a set of training data in a controlled environment,” she said, adding that “one of the big challenges seems that there are easy ways to fool detection models — i.e. by compressing an image or a video.”

Tassner admitted that it might be possible for a bad actor to get around the detector. “Would it be able to defeat our system? I assume that it would,” he said.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of deepfakes. Those that are wholly generated by AI, such as the fake human faces on www.thispersondoesnotexist.com, and others that use elements of AI to manipulate authentic media.

Schick questioned whether Facebook’s tool would work on the latter, adding that “there can never be a one size fits all detector.” But Xiaoming Liu, Facebook’s collaborator at Michigan State, said the work has “been evaluated and validated on both cases of deepfakes.” Liu added that the “performance might be lower” in cases where the manipulation only happens in a very small area.

Chris Ume, the synthetic media artist behind the Tom Cruise deepfakes, said at CogX on Monday that deepfake technology is moving rapidly.

“There are a lot of different AI tools and for the Tom Cruise, for example, I’m combining a lot of different tools to get the quality that you see on my channel,” he said.

It’s unclear how or indeed if Facebook will look to apply Tassner’s software to its platforms. “We’re not at the point of even having a discussion on products,” said Tassner, adding that there’s several potential use cases including spotting coordinated deepfake attacks.

“If someone wanted to abuse them (generative models) and conduct a coordinated attack by uploading things from different sources, we can actually spot that just by saying all of these came from the same mold we’ve never seen before but it has these specific properties, specific attributes,” he said.

As part of the work, Facebook said it has collected and catalogued 100 different deepfake models that are in existence.



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Microsoft Is in Exclusive Talks to Acquire Discord


Microsoft Corp. is in advanced talks to acquire messaging platform Discord Inc. for $10 billion or more, according to people familiar with the matter, as the software giant seeks to deepen its consumer offerings.

Microsoft and Discord are in exclusive talks and could complete a deal next month, assuming the negotiations don’t fall apart, the people said.

Originally favored by gamers, San Francisco-based Discord offers voice, text and video chatting. The platform’s popularity has surged since the pandemic took hold as people stay home and connect online—as has that of other chat services, like Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp and Signal Messenger LLC. Discord has been considering an IPO.

Microsoft, which has a market value of more than $1.7 trillion, has been on the hunt for an acquisition that would help it reach more consumers. Last summer, it held talks to buy the popular video-sharing app TikTok amid a high-profile geopolitical standoff prompted by the Trump administration, before abandoning the effort.

VentureBeat reported this week that Discord was exploring a sale and had entered exclusive discussions with an unnamed suitor.



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Future

Opinion: How to invest in the future — here’s an idea for a ‘Spacebook’ fund


Two years ago I was so bullish on Tesla that I basically wanted to become “the Tesla Fund.” Tesla was trading around $50 a share. It closed at $563 on March 8.

That was two years ago. I thought the setup was perfect for Tesla
TSLA,
-5.84%

and the pending electric-vehicle onslaught. Fast forward to today and Tesla is up more than 10-fold since we bought it, even after dropping more than 30% from its $900 high. The EV revolution is here and most of the stocks of the companies in that revolution have risen to bubblicious levels.

I am scouring the globe and even the universe to find the next revolutionary industries to get in front of, and I keep coming back to what I call The Space Revolution and The Virtual Reality Revolution.

So here’s what I’ve come up with as the best risk/reward for my hedge fund and perhaps for individual investors as well. I’m calling it “Spacebook,” which means being overweighted in space stocks and Facebook
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-3.39%
.

Big bargain

Let’s start with Facebook. Holy cow, Facebook’s valuation is cheap. The shares trade for 22 times the consensus earnings estimate for the next 12 months among analysts polled by FactSet. This is for a company whose sales are expected to increase 25% in 2021 and 20% in 2022, following 22% in 2020. (You can see the consensus sales estimates for Facebook and other big tech stocks here.)

That valuation is only slightly ahead of a forward price-to-earnings estimate of 21.7 for the S&P 500 Index
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-0.54%
.
For the index, sale per share are expected to increase 9% in 2021 and 7% in 2022, after a 3.5% decline in 2020.

Facebook’s consistently high double-digit revenue growth is a lot for a company that did $86 billion in revenue last year. What’s most exciting about the growth numbers is that they don’t include any of the upside that Facebook is about to achieve in the burgeoning virtual reality market provided by the Oculus platform. As I wrote in January, the VR market is coming, and it’s coming soon. Facebook is going to be one of the biggest winners in that market, if not the biggest.

As I type this about Facebook, I can’t help but think back to two years ago (and 1,000% ago) as I wrote to you about Tesla. I’m getting the same exact feelings about valuations and revolutions.

To be clear, it’s not this current generation of Facebook’s Oculus virtual reality headset that is going to go mainstream, but it’s the next, lighter, even more advanced one and the versions thereafter. Facebook has a critical mass of developers as well as apps and games being created for its platform already. The first version of Oculus was like a late-version iPod.

Space revolution

Now, how many times do I need to talk about the Space Revolution? The technology has gotten advanced and cheap enough that the whole thing is literally taking off. This is a private company’s dream come true. We are starting to see private space companies come public just as I was saying they would be two years ago.

Over the next 20 to 30 years, there are so many applications that can come to fruition. Space factories, space tourism, space hotels, asteroid mining, supersonic transportation, new colonies — the list goes on. If your time horizon is the next two to three years, I don’t know what to tell you. It might not happen in that period.

But if you are like me and thinking about the next 10,000 days, then we have to get in front of this revolution. I started two years ago when I bought Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the private market for my hedge fund and followed up a year and a half ago when we got into Virgin Galactic Holdings
SPCE,
-2.78%
.

A lot of public technology companies are bubbled up right now, space players included. We are probably paying two to three times what these companies are really worth right now as they come public.

VC-like investments

However, we are making venture-capital-like investments in these with the potential to see 50 to 100 times our investment over the next 10 to 20 years. I’m OK paying up a little for that kind of opportunity. If we compare this sector to the bubbled-up electric-vehicle revolution that is already here, I like the risk/reward of the coming Space Revolution much more. The EV market has already had its huge run.

So how do we continue to invest in the Space Revolution? SpaceX is clearly the best company right now. If you’re wealthy enough, with a little work, you can find a way to make a private investment in the company. I’ve done that in my hedge fund.

But if you don’t have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) to throw at SpaceX, I think Rocket Lab
VACQ,
-4.00%

is the best way to invest in the space revolution right now. You can read more about Rocket Lab and Vector Acquisition Corp., the special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that is expected to take it public, here.

I have begun to take a position in both the hedge fund and my personal account. It has come down some (like most space stocks and high growth tech over the last week) since my initial report and I have continued to add to the position. Virgin Galactic remains another favorite public space company to invest in. We first got into that name in November 2019 at around $8 per share.

Virgin Galactic, just like the other space companies, is probably a little overvalued at the moment. Especially with no revenue and not being able to get its test flights successfully into orbit. But again, we are looking up to 30 years down the road and this is currently my third-favorite way to invest in the space revolution.

I’m researching four or five other space companies that have recently come public. I’ve also made Facebook one of my largest positions again for the first time in a while.

As always when making an investment, I suggest that you give yourself room to add to the position if it falls. Over the next six months to two years, I think we’ll have the opportunity to buy most small-cap tech stocks at lower prices. On the flipside, I can’t guarantee that those positions will drop, which is why I have begun to build my positions in the space and virtual reality revolutions, and why I will continue to add to them if given the chance at lower prices.

That’s why I am basically becoming “the Spacebook Fund.”

Cody Willard is a columnist for MarketWatch and editor of the Revolution Investing newsletter. Willard or his investment firm may own, or plan to own, securities mentioned in this column.



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Thumb injury forces video gamer to retire


Attendees play the Call of Duty: Black Ops III game by Activision Blizzard during the E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A 25-year-old professional video gamer has been forced to retire due to a thumb injury.

Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto announced he’s “taking a step back from competitive Call of Duty” on Twitter.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write, I am stepping down and will no longer compete in competitive Call of Duty for the foreseeable future,” he said in a separate blog post.

“It breaks my heart to step away from a game I put my heart and soul into every single day for eight years,” he added. “Tearing up just writing this, but I don’t know what else to do at this point.”

Paparatto plays for an esports team called New York Subliners and he has earned $387,019 from 87 tournaments, according to Esports Earnings. His largest prize from a single tournament came in April 2018, when he won $53,125 in a Call of Duty: Cold War II competition.

The U.S. gamer struggled with weakness in his thumb and his wrist a few years ago while playing a game called FaZe Clan. He had to have surgery as a result.

“Going through that process of getting healthy again was one of the hardest things I ever had to do both physically and mentally, which led to a lot of stress and anxiety,” he said. “Unfortunately, the injury has returned making it really hard for me to compete at the highest level against some of the best players in the world.”

He said that playing through the pain in his hand “just isn’t possible anymore” and that he doesn’t enjoy competing when he can’t be the “ZooMaa everyone knows and loves.”

Fans and fellow gamers shared their support following his announcement. 

Many professional gamers train or compete for over 10 hours a day, and some of them rake in over a $1 million a year in the process. However, the physical and mental strain on the body can sometimes result in health problems.  

Sam Matthews, founder and chief executive of Fnatic, told CNBC in December: “These people are fit and healthy largely, but there’s always an anomaly to the rule.”





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As Apple releases its new line of Macs, the biggest beneficiary may be Microsoft


Apple is set to launch its next generation of MacBooks this week. For the first time since the surprise 2005 announcement by Steve Jobs that Apple was moving from PowerPC to Intel (x86), the company is set to take on chip-making responsibility for the Mac.

With Apple
AAPL,
-0.37%

coming off strong earnings that included better-than-expected growth for its Mac line, which grew 7.3%, more than double the PC market’s 3.6%, it would seem like the perfect moment for its new launch of improved MacBooks.

However, I believe the launch could test Apple, as it is essentially deriving the silicon for its new Macs from the iPhone. In time this may pan out well, but there is a good chance this show could get off to a rocky start.

Apple has made many claims about its new MacBooks, and while we will have to wait until Tuesday’s event to get the full picture, there have been plenty of leaks on what to expect from the company.

It’s the same old-new normal for Apple, which CEO Tim Cook alluded to at this year’s WWDC event, including promises of a whole new level of performance, with the lowest power consumption, maximizing battery life to be better than ever before. Also, a new level of graphic performance and even more market innovation.

In the WWDC transcript, Cook’s exact words were: “The Mac will take another huge leap forward.”

All of this will remain TBD until broad benchmarking and compatibility testing for software and peripherals is available.

Challenging transition

My biggest concern, though, isn’t the promises, but rather the potential vulnerabilities for Apple. The transition from Intel
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+1.87%

to its new Arm-based silicon is almost certain to be a challenging transition that will impact both consumers and developers.

The company’s entire software ecosystem will have to be rewritten to work on this new architecture, and this takes time. Microsoft
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-1.02%
,
for instance, has been working for a decade on building its software ecosystem to run smoothly on Arm-based variants, both of its Surface Pro X but also other Arm-based notebooks from the likes of Samsung and Lenovo. The improvement has been material, but it has been markedly difficult to meet all the developer and consumer needs.

More specifically, the transition from Intel to Apple’s new silicon will likely break applications, and create compatibility issues with peripherals. While I expect Apple to have a set of “hero apps” that will work flawlessly, this certainly won’t be the case across all the apps, tools and games used by Mac consumers.

Reaction of consumers, developers

This will leave consumers frustrated with their new Macs, perhaps more so than Mac’s constant quality issues with its keyboards in recent generations. Furthermore, this creates more work for developers, who will now be required to support disparate apps for the Intel version and the Arm version — this is anything but straightforward.

Perhaps Apple’s biggest mistake is its claims that this transition will be seamless. Sure, that is good marketing, but the more realistic approach should be: “Bear with us while we make the Mac experience even better.”

Another big question mark for Apple will be around support of its current generation of Intel-based Macs. The company was heavily scrutinized for its short period of support for PowerPC after shifting to Mac. The support period lasted only three years, and that left some Apple customers dissatisfied. Many Mac users stay with a device for five to eight years, and certainly won’t want to be forced to buy another $2,000-plus device prematurely if Apple decides to stop supporting its Intel-based Macs after three years. This will be something to watch closely.  

If Apple does stumble for a period while it seeks to perfect its new silicon, the next question is where do consumers seeking an alternative to Mac turn?

Microsoft stands to gain

I believe Microsoft could be the big winner during this transition for the Mac. The Microsoft Surface has seen its growth rates up 37% in its most recent quarter, tracking over $6 billion in its trailing four quarters. This number is still much smaller than Mac, which saw its Mac revenue at $9 billion in its most recent quarter, reflecting its best quarter ever, growing 28% year over year. Still, I believe there may have been some padding with buyers seeking to upgrade before Apple moves away from the Intel-based silicon.

Maybe more than just Microsoft and Surface’s growth momentum is the brand strength and ultra-premium branding that comes with Surface. I have long believed Microsoft’s endeavor into Surface had much less to do with competing with its large software OEM’s like Dell
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+0.55%
,
HP
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+3.40%

and Lenovo, and much more to do with building a true competitor to the Mac.

This has been visible in the entire approach to Surface, including acute attention to details such as the packaging, the branding on the notebooks, the construction materials and the premium pricing. Microsoft has also been wise in its development of the Surface to include Intel, AMD
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-1.64%
,
and Arm-based variants, giving customers a choice while taking advantage of its ability to support all three chipsets’ software compatibility nuances.

Tuesday’s launch has a lot at stake for Apple. Apple’s move away from Intel has long been touted as a big problem for Intel, but it could be equally, if not more problematic, for Apple. With Microsoft Surface continuing to gain momentum for its ultra-high-quality notebooks, Mac faces more competition and will be under pressure to get this right— sooner than later.

Daniel Newman is the principal analyst at Futurum Research, which
provides or has provided research, analysis, advising and/or consulting to
Qualcomm, Nvidia, Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, ARM, and dozens of companies in
the tech and digital industries. Neither he nor his firm holds any equity
positions in any companies cited. Follow him on Twitter 
@danielnewmanUV.





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