Deep Fakes, Weapon Printing, and Virtual Reality

“The sky is like a bad dream and the earth is in cahoots.” The Drones


I’m not talking about sound or music today because I’m scared. Here are three anxieties I want to share with you:

In 2020, Taiwanese YouTuber Chu Yu-Chen ran an extraordinary Telegram group. The group was called “Taiwan Internet Celebrities”. To join, you only had to pay an entrance fee of between 100NT and 400NT (around 10 USD). It was a boys club, rich with bad taste misogynistic Trump-flavored language, and an eerie, implicit pact of silence. Now and then, a voting poll would be issued: “Which celebrities’ porn video you want to see next?”. After the voting, Chu would get to work and deep fake the celebrities’ faces into a porn video. It took him and his business partner around a day to render realistic enough content, but they would keep the gears running non-stop with both celebrity and non-celebrity videos that you could commission for an extra fee. All of this happened without the victims’ knowledge and consent, of course, and it was a matter of time before these videos were leaked outside of the Telegram group and the victims saw them. Chu Yu-Chen was sued for it in April 2021 and sentenced to five years in prison in 2023 for the nonconsensual creation of deep fake porn videos of 119 victims. Some of the victims were celebrities, others were women targeted by their exes for revenge porn and some were unsuspecting women preyed upon by obsessed acquaintances.

In 2024, OpenAI unveiled Sora and its incredible capabilities to create hyper-realistic 1-minute long videos from a text prompt with a render time of about an hour.

In May 2013, the first 3d printed handgun was fired in a shooting range in Austin, Texas. It was called Liberator and was capable of firing 8-10 rounds before breaking, but most builds exploded into pieces on the first shot. The distribution of its 3d models challenged gun control laws around the globe; if you had a 3d printer, you could print the undetectable and deadly Liberator. Since then, stricter regulation has been passed in several countries and states, but the gun printing community has only grown stronger. In 2020, the FGC-9 was released. Its initials stand for “Fuck Gun Control”. It’s an open-source, 3d printable, semi-automatic 9mm carbine developed by Deterrence Dispensed, whose alleged sympathy for the United States far-right movements like the Boogaloo Boys is hinted by the naming of some of their weapon designs (like the Yankee Boogle, an AR-15 mod that makes the all-time favorite weapon for mass shooters a fully automatic rifle). In the words of the FGC-9 creator, Jacob Duygu: “You can’t truly call yourself peaceful unless you’re capable of great violence. If you’re not capable of violence you’re not peaceful, you’re harmless”.

Back in the mid-90s you only saw executives and CEOs using mobile phones on the street, and as kids we would shout “Buy! Buy! Sell!” in Catalan, trying to make fun of the likely high-rise office investor and its gimmicky gadget. Fast-forward a few years and we were all sending SMS to each other. Today’s sci-fi shout-funny-things-to-whoever-wears-it tool is either the Apple Vision Pro or Meta Quest Pro. Videos making fun of people wearing these headsets in public are trending on TikTok and Instagram. Fast-forward a few years from now and we’ll surely Black Mirror our way into Virtual Reality. It could be argued that we’re already there, with more and more cases of harassment and assaults being reported in virtual chat rooms and games, the most notable and infuriating being the alleged gang rape of a minor in January 2024.

The world is fast turning into a sci-fi bad dream, full of technological wonders beyond our 90s kid imagination that come with an overlooked dark side. One could argue that, for example, gun printing tools give communities a fighting chance against oppression, like Myanmar’s rebels against the 2021 military coup d’état and current Junta. But whenever I’m tempted to condone a tool created by an alleged incel like Duygu, praise Meta’s virtual landscapes, or celebrate yet another AI mastering tool… I don’t know, I get an itch a sudden need to go to a nearby forest, sit on a rock, listen to the birds, and read Audre Lorde.

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