Since appearing in 2017, deepfakes have inspired a predominantly negative public response. Substantial research has been devoted to the danger that deepfake technology—as a deceptive audiovisual device—poses to democratic and evidentiary systems; and to the development of AI and legislative mechanisms to control it. However, the diverse and multiplying ways in which deepfake practitioners, researchers, and consumers are now viewing, framing, and using deepfake technology—and its positive applications in commerce, science, education, and the arts—deserve closer attention. This article assesses the plausibility of dystopian and utopian narratives around deepfakes to offer a more nuanced understanding of deepfake technology as a novel synthetic media tool: one which, like any screen-based illusion, can be harnessed for malign and benign purposes, and whose cultural and political power rests—for now at least—not with the machines that create it, but the human beings who use it.

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