When The Real Becomes Fake & Fake Becomes Real
A month a go there was famous Hollywood star Tom Cruise’s TikTok video circulating online where he was playing golf and doing tricks with a coin. But then it was discovered that it was not him, it was a deepfake video created to impersonate him. Interestingly commercial tools for recognizing deepfakes cleared the clip as “authentic”, and while eagle-eyed viewers claimed to spot artefacts, such as an out-of-sync reflection, others pondered whether the fake was itself fake. This brief writing aims to explain how Deepfake Technology is one of the Dajjal's trials as prophesied for us in the ahadith literature.
What is Deepfake?
A deepfake is an artificial intelligence (AI) generated video or audio clip of a real person doing or saying fictional things. A computer uses “deep learning” algorithms to learn the movements or sounds of two different recordings and combine them and produce realistic-looking fake media. Deepfake technology can create fictional videos, audio clips and photos of individuals. It can impersonate someone and make them say or act in a way they never did. Basically, it can create a fake version of you, me or anyone. Technically speaking, one way to produce this deception is through autoencoders that employ face swapping techniques. The autoencoder program is tasked with studying video clips to understand what a person looks like from a variety of angles and environmental conditions, and then maps that person onto an individual in a target video by finding common features.
What does Dajjal have to do with Deepfakes?
The word dajjal comes from the saying ‘dajjala al-ba’ir (he tarred the camel)’, that is, he smeared and coated it in tar. Hence its original meaning is mixing, so one would say ‘dajala’ he coated and mixed. Consequently, the dajjal is one who mixes and confuses truth with falsehood, who lies habitually and who conducts magical feats. Dajjal is someone who covers and conceals his disbelief (kufr) to the people, by way of lying, falsifying (the truth) and deceiving. Linguists say that the word is on the measure of (fa’ala) which is one of the forms (in Arabic) which conveys doing the action of the original verb intensely. Therefore, Dajjal’s deception and lies will be severe and in abundance. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ referred to him as “masih al-dajjal” meaning ‘false messiah’ because he will impersonate the real masih (messiah) which is only Isa ibn Maryam (Jesus son of Mary) (a.s) as per Quran (Al Quran 3:45). Basically, he will be a fake version of Prophet Isa (a.s). Since Dajjal is one of the signs of the hour and his primary motive is deception, we can notice that many of his trials foretold in prophetic hadith are now conceivable with the use of technology such as AI and Deepfakes.
Deepfake Generation Outstrips Detection
Deepfake technology is now in use by academic and industrial researchers, amateur enthusiasts, movie producers, governments and spying agencies. There is a commercial and educational use but the mischievous use has become much more widely spread and is becoming extremely difficult to control, especially as technology continues to rapidly evolve. For instance, at one time one identifying factor was that the person in the doctored video does not blink eyes. But no sooner had the research been published, deepfakes with blinking started. Hany Farid, a computer science professor and digital forensics expert at the University of California at Berkeley says “We are outgunned. The number of people working on the video-synthesis side, as opposed to the detector side, is 100 to 1.” In AI circles, reports The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell, identifying fake media has long received less attention, funding, and institutional support than creating it. If AI helps Deepfake technology evolve at such a rapid rate where detection becomes almost impossible and the fake looks sophisticatedly real then we can imagine what the Prophet ﷺ warned about one of Dajjal’s trials: "...Part of his Fitnah will be that he will say to a Bedouin: "What do you think, if I resurrect your father and mother for you, will you bear witness that I am your Lord?" He will say: "Yes." Then two devils will appear to him in the form of his father and mother and will say: "O my son, follow him, for he is your Lord."..."
This may sound surprising for those who may not know that something similar is already part of Hollywood which has regenerated actors in roles after they’ve died. Such as James Dean, an actor that died decades ago has starred again in Finding Jack. Similar thing happened in movie Star Wars. In fact, the use of AI generated prerecorded videos of Holocaust survivors, even after their passing away, whom one can conversate in real time is a possibility now. Chad Steelberg, CEO of Veritone, US AI Tech company, says in the future such technology will enable grandchildren to have conversations with AI versions of deceased elderly relatives.
Artificial Intelligence & Jassasah - Dajjal's Spying Network
Artificial Intelligence, the main source behind Deepfakes, is being employed by intelligence services of Europe, US, China and Russia and their political allies, competing for global dominance. Just few weeks back Chinese government partially banned the Tesla cars over national security fears. A government security review of Tesla vehicles found the EVs cameras and sensors are capable of recording images, driving locations and usage, driver's personal info synced with the car etc. Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, denied that these electric cars do not spy. Not to forget how Russia is using bots on social media to interfere in US and French elections and tit for tat has been ongoing between other countries, all using artificial intelligence. There is no telling that in the aftermath of 9/11 and the beginning of Afghanistan & Iraq wars, videos and audio clips of “Al Qaeda Operatives” claiming responsibility for terrorism circulated online or aired by news channels were probably deepfakes that provided pretext to further Western military intervention in the region. In one of the ahadith we are informed that Dajjal will be accompanied by a creature called Jassasah الْجَسَّاسَةُ. The term means ‘someone who searches or spies for news or information’ which symbolizes how in dajjal’s deepfake era, spying will weaponize artificial intelligence for gathering intelligence and information on others and then reuse for political ambitions.
Deepfakes Undermining Trust & Confidence
Deepfakes are also increasing the amount of distrust in the society. They are creating a zero-trust society, where people can no longer bother to distinguish truth from falsehood. And when trust is eroded, it is easier to raise doubts even about authentic events. Nowadays even real news that involves high profile personalities such as politicians and leaders are being rejected and termed as fake news. For instance, many scandals involving former US President Trump were rejected by him as fake news, a claim widely accepted by his following due to prevalence of this confusing technology.  Nasir Memon, a professor of computer science and engineering at New York University says: “As a consequence of this, even truth will not be believed. The man in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square moved the world. Nixon on the phone cost him his presidency. Images of horror from concentration camps finally moved us into action. If the notion of … believing what you see is under attack, that is a huge problem.” Just as Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said “The time of the Dajjaal will be years of confusion. People will believe a liar and disbelieve one who tells the truth. People will distrust one who is trustworthy, and trust one who is treacherous.”
A Deepfake Parable in the Quran
Consciousness of Allah ﷻ guides the believers to be careful in all their life affairs including getting news and information fed through international media machinery. When Umar (r.a) asked Kaab to define Taqwa (God consciousness) to which he inquired back from Umar (r.a) what would happen if he walked through a thorny bush path with his cloak. Umar (r.a) replied he would move cautiously, to not tear his clothing. Such display of caution in all life affairs provides discernment to the believer as Allah ﷻ says (Al Quran 8:29) that He provides the ability to discern between truth and falsehood, those who believe in Him and remain conscious of Him. - In the story of Queen of Sheba and Prophet Suleiman (alaihi salaam) the Quran teaches a parable of a recognizing deepfakes. Prophet Suleiman (alaihi salaam) had taken the charge to make the Queen realize the disbelief and errors of her and her nation. He invited her to visit him in Jerusalem, and then ordered his audience that Queen’s throne be brought before her arrival. Once the throne arrived, he ordered:
(Al Quran 27:41-44) “Disguise the throne for her, and we will see whether she discovers the truth, or she does not recognize it.” So, when she came, it was said (to her), “Is your throne like this?” She said, “It seems to be the same.” … It was said to her, “Enter the palace.” Then once she saw it, she thought it was flowing water, and uncovered her legs. He (Suleiman) said, “This is a palace made of glasses.” She said, “My Lord, I had surely wronged myself, and now I submit, along with Suleiman, to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds.”
A throne signifies as a ruler’s seat of power and Suleiman (alaihi salaam) brought and altered it to show that what he had been given (Prophethood & Kingdom) was stronger due to his obedience and submission to Allah ﷻ. The parable teaches that appearance and reality were completely different when the Queen observed the throne and the palace. Prophet Suleiman (a.s) tested her to see if she remains satisfied with perceiving only outward appearance of things or carefully analyzes and attempts to understand their reality. As per Imam ibn Kathir (r.a) she did not hasten to say that this was her throne neither did she hasten to say that it was not her throne, when she saw that some things had been altered and changed. This signifies a believer’s attitude during deepfake era where one should be careful of how one takes knowledge and information, neither denying it nor blindly accepting because such hastiness could make us targets of disinfo propaganda. In the case of crystal palace, underneath which water was flowing, she thought it was water even though she was explicitly informed that it was a palace. She was careful when she noticed apparent difference between what she was told and what she saw. Her exercising caution on both occasions teaches that in the age of deepfakes caution is necessary to protect one’s heart and mind from falsehood. It was her carefulness that made her realize the errors of her belief and she submitted to Allah ﷻ.
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