Thursday, February 20, 2020

Number of the day: 7

Just seven days on a high fat and added sugar diet can addle your brain—specifically your hippocampus. According to the lead researcher of a new study, “After a week on a western-style diet, palatable food such as snacks and chocolate becomes more desirable when you are full… This will make it harder to resist, leading you to eat more, which in turn generates more damage to the hippocampus and a vicious cycle of overeating.”

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The BJP using deepfake videos in the Delhi election

Ok, it isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. And the fake videos weren’t part of any dirty tricks campaign. But the BJP’s deployment of deepfakes does mark a troubling new frontier in Indian electoral politics.


Wait, what’s a deepfake video? The word deepfake is a combination of “deep learning” and “fake”—deep learning being a kind of artificial intelligence. Deepfake videos use AI to create fake images and sounds. The system learns how to do so by ‘studying’ photos and videos of a target person from multiple angles—and then mimics that person’s behavior and speech patterns. The best-known example is this Barack Obama video that was used to warn against this technology. 


How did the BJP use them? On the eve of the Delhi election, two campaign videos of Delhi BJP President Manoj Tiwari went viral on WhatsApp. One shows Tiwari speaking in English, and in Haryanvi in the other. In both, he issues a call to vote against AAP: “[Kejriwal] cheated us on the basis of promises. But now Delhi has a chance to change it all. Press the lotus button on February 8 to form the Modi-led government.”


And these are deepfakes? Yup. The ‘real’ video featured Tiwari making a different speech—focusing on the Citizenship Amendment Act—and in a different language: Hindi. Watch it here. But the deepfakes used the same video and ‘remade’ it into an appeal to Delhi voters. Watch the same video in English or watch all three in one clip.


Er, why do this? According to Delhi BJP’s social media head, “Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before… The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.” In this case: Delhi’s rural migrants and ‘urban’ voters. The videos were distributed across 5,800 WhatsApp groups, and reached around 15 million people.


Doesn’t sound so bad: The company that created the deepfakes, Ideaz Factory boasts,“[W]e have used a tool that has so far been used only for negative or ambush campaigning and debuted it for a positive campaign.” 


What’s wrong with that? Because anything that makes it hard for people to distinguish between reality and fiction is highly dangerous. The most popular use of such tech: porn videos featuring celebrities without their consent, typically women. And in politics, these videos “can be used to undermine the reputation of a political candidate by making the candidate appear to say or do things that never actually occurred.” 


So deepfakes should be banned? No such luck for now. The technology is widely available and cheap. There are vendors around the world who offer custom deepfakes for as little as $30. But the tech companies are cracking down. YouTube announced that it will yank all “technically altered” videos that aim to mislead voters in the US election. Facebook also issued a ban on deepfakes back in January. Twitter plans to either flag or pull down all altered content.


Also this: Jigsaw—owned by the same company, Alphabet, as Google—recently unveiled a new tool for media companies that helps detect altered images and videos.


The bottomline: We live in the Misinformation Age. The world is drowning in a toxic sludge of fake news. And our societies are so polarised that we can’t even agree on basic facts. So, no, there is nothing ‘positive’ about using a deepfake video in an election. 

Learn more: Vice broke the story about the BJP videos. BBC News put together an excellent video explainer on deepfakes. Computer World reports on the promising use of blockchain technology to detect such videos. The Guardian reports on the future of deepfake porn—which will feature entirely fake actors. Elle has a first person account of a woman whose life was nearly ruined by deepfake porn. Want the big picture? Read the alarming Deep Trace Labs 2019 report on the rise of deepfakes. FYI, the same tech can also be used for fun. For example, watch comedian Bill Hader morph into Tom Cruise.

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craving Cheetos after bingeing on pasta

Delhi police move on Jamia violence: A Special Investigation Team is investigating a flurry of CCTV clips depicting police brutality on the Jamia Millia campus. Police officials first dismissed the footage as doctored. A senior police official said, “Once the sequence is established, we will identify all those involved in the violence and action as per law will be taken,” And the SIT team has asked for duty rosters for policemen on duty that day. (Indian Express)


UK has a new visa system: and it’s all about scoring points—which are awarded for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and professions. The new scorecard favours skilled workers who can speak English. And the Global Talent Scheme, a fast-track visa, will allow highly-qualified scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer. According to Home Secretary Priti Patel, "The new single global system will treat the EU and non-EU citizens equally. It will give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents, including scientists, engineers and academics." Times of India has more on why Indians will gain from the new system.


No VPNs for Kashmiris: After six months of a total internet shutdown, the government finally restored limited connectivity to the Valley last month (details in our explainer). However, a great number of sites—including social media platforms—remain blocked. So Kashmiris are using virtual private networks—which help disguise your internet address—to browse the internet. And now the police are cracking down: “We have identified 100 social media users and are in the process of identifying more users for misuse of social media, for disseminating fake and false secessionist, anti-India propaganda.” Note: Indians routinely use VPNs to access porn, US Netflix etc. (Reuters)


Dolling up for Trump’s Bharat Yatra: We Indians always go that extra mile to spruce up our home for those very special house guests. And the Indian government is no different. 

  • Brut offers a must-watch video on Trump’s upcoming visit to ‘spotless India’. 
  • Also being cleaned up: The Yamuna which will be flushed clean with lots of fresh water to improve its “environmental condition” and reduce its “foul smell.” 
  • In related news: Trump told reporters, “[Prime Minister Modi] told me we’ll have seven million people between the airport and the event.” 
  • However, none of this safai will help our trade cause. Trump has already said no-ji Modi to a trade treaty.


A new kind of super facial recognition tech: is being deployed in China to battle the spread of the coronavirus. A new product can recognize people’s faces even if they are wearing masks. And it uses thermal imaging cameras to detect elevated body temperatures among employees—which triggers alerts to management. More importantly, the viral outbreak has become the perfect excuse to embed surveillance in everyday life. In related news: Xiaomi's 'smart mask' can tell you just how much polluted air you’ve inhaled. (Quartz)


Airbus in trouble in India: The airline has been accused of using bribes to seal orders in more than 20 countries. Now the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is taking a closer look at a payment of Rs 1.42 billion ($20 million) linked to the 2006 purchase of 43 jets by Indian Airlines. (Bloomberg via NDTV)


Say no to gobar science: Over 110 Indian scientists issued an urgent appeal to the science and technology ministry, urging it to stop incentivising shit science—or rather, cow shit science. Last week, the ministry invited research proposals to “identify bioactive principles and ingredients in cow dung, urine or milk that could be used for medicines, nutritional and household products, including insect repellents, toothpastes and shampoos.” Satya naash. (The Telegraph)


Stuff that makes you go WTF: This clip. The accompanying tweet—“Welcome to Hindu Taliban”—says it all. 


Cool stuff we learned online: includes the following


  • Racquet looks at the newest performance-enhancing food in tennis: maple syrup! 
  • For all that fuss over inclusion and diversity, Vogue highlights the unspoken truth of fashion: the young still rule the runway.
  • Voice of Fashion reports on an artisanal workshop in Chennai that makes exquisitely tailored Savile Row-quality suits.
  • CNBC TV looks at a Godrej building that has Mumbaikars buzzing. The reason: the flats are selling at Rs 6 crore… in Chembur!
  • This one is for language nerds. Merriam Webster riffs on the very many kinds of collective nouns—both lovely and absurd. An exaltation of larks? We love it!. 
  • Daily Mail looks at Amsterdam’s plans to build a fancy ‘erotic centre’ in order to ease the pressure on its red light district. 
  • We enjoyed reading this thread on Swiss physicist Auguste Piccard who was one of the first humans to enter the stratosphere in a giant yellow balloon. He’s also the inspiration for the beloved Professor Calculus and connected to StarFleet captain Jean-Luc Picard.
  • Not cool but important: Mongabay explains why the fish seem to have disappeared off Karnataka’s coast this winter.


Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:


  • Vince ‘Jetman’ Reffet soaring 1,800 metres (nearly 6,000 feet) above Dubai, aided with jetpacks and carbon-fire wings. 
  • Disney’s newest venture: princess-inspired bridal wear. Yeah, we never saw that one coming.
  • Here’s some news to gladden every Gen-Xer’s heart: A-ha’s “Take On Me” now has more than one billion views on YouTube—proving that cheesy teeny bopper pop never grew old.
  • Going viral: Welspun India CEO Dipali Goenka seriously rocking out to ‘Muqabla’ at the office—proving you can never have enough dancing at the workplace.
  • This Coorg resort charges its guests Rs 100 for 10 grams of food they waste.
  • Recently, some dumbass godman claimed that menstruating women who cook food for their husbands will be reborn as dogs in their next life. Here’s our fave response to that bs. That it's from Broadsheet ambassador Shunali Shroff just makes it more awesome.
  • All Blacks rugby legend Sean Fitzpatrick was asked to break down rugby scenes from famous films. It was all going well until he encountered a Bollywood contribution.
  • Toddler, eyeliner, enuf said. 
  • A guy at the subway asked passersby to ‘finish the lyrics’ to famous songs. Then he asked this woman to do the same for ‘Shallow’. What happened next is truly astonishing.
  • Also: red oreos.
  • Sonam Kapoor taking an important stance against torturing ghodas at shaadis.
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