Prepare yourself for the ITV sketch show “Deep Fake Neighbour Wars”, the first mainstream UK TV show based on deepfake technology (as far as I know).

Appearing on ITVX on the 26th January, it’s a comedy sketch show seemingly showing people living their everyday mundane lives. Except these aren’t either characters created for the show or actors doing impressions of other people. They are ‘real’ megastar celebrities - well, real in the sense that they look and and sound like them, even though the celebrities concerned haven’t been anywhere near it.

Instead, the show was first acted out by less well-known actors. StudioNeural - “the world’s first provider of synthetic media for long form TV” - then used deepfake technology to replace their faces with ultra-realistic visages of actual bigtime celebrities.

From a summary of the preview:

We meet loved up Nicki Minaj and Tom Holland who are not happy with Mark Zuckerberg next door, Idris Elba gets a shock when new neighbour Kim Kardashian starts making her presence known in their communal garden, Harry Kane’s perfect patio is damaged by upstairs neighbour Stormzy and dental hygienist Billie Eilish clashes with neighbour Beyonce when she starts working from home.

Mainstreaming deep fake technology for entertainment like this does feel like a potential turning point for popularizing this technology. It’ll allow things to be done that never otherwise could have been. Up until now deepfakes have usually been discussed as in the context of nefarious use-cases - fake news, fraudulent political persuasion, personal attacks or revenge porn. But even for entirely benign uses, as the Guardian notes, there’s not really much in the way of established etiquette or guidelines for the use of this very new technology yet.

What is fair in the name of comedy, vs what is some kind of unethical exploitation? Whether this be of the celebrities or the relatively nameless actors who are hidden behind the fakes (until the end of the show anyway in this particular case).

Unless a message is constantly superimposed over the broadcast that this isn’t real, what are the implications in a world where it’s extremely common for short clips to be taken out of videos and shared on social media?

To borrow an example from the same article, Spitting Image was an extremely funny satire (the original one at least), but how would it have come across if instead of using caricature puppets the show used representations of the people being satirised that were basically indistinguishable from their actual IRL selves?

Nadine Dorries, admittedly someone who one might argue has a strong agenda of her own, was worried that the This England TV drama which purports to document a dramatised version of how the UK government dealing with Covid-19 (amongst other things) was dangerous:

Admittedly, the producers put a disclaimer before each episode, stating that the drama is fictional, based on true events. But the fact that scenes are interspersed with real news footage makes it very deceptive. Also, many scenes involving politicians and civil servants are eerily convincing.

How much more convincing would it have been if Boris Johnson was played by his digital doppelganger as opposed to Kenneth Branagh?