Deepfake tech takes on satellite maps

Although the concept of “deepfax” or AI-produced synthetic imagery is largely related to human voluntary imagery, the technology is dangerous (and interesting) in other ways.

For example, researchers have shown that it can be used to create real-looking – but completely fake – overhead maps of cities using satellite images. The study, led by Bo Zhao from the University of Washington, is not intended to intimidate anyone but to show the risks and opportunities involved in the application of this rather infamous technology in cartography. In fact their approach has a lot in common with the “style transfer” techniques – reprinting images in an imprinted, crayon and arbitrary other fashions – not commonly understood with dipfecks.

The team has trained a machine learning system in satellite imagery of three different cities: Seattle, nearby Tacoma and Beijing. Each has its own distinct appearance, as a painter or medium does. Seattle, for example, tends to have more green and narrow streets, while Beijing is more monochromatic and – in the images used for the study – taller buildings cast longer, darker shadows.

The system has learned to associate the details of street maps (like Google or Apple) with satellite view. As a result, when the machine learning agent is given a street map, the area gives a real-looking pseudo-satellite image of what it would look like if it were in a city. In the image below, the map matches the image of the satellite to the top right of Tacoma, while the versions below show what it might look like in Seattle and Beijing.

A closer look will show that the fake maps are not as sharp as the real ones and there are probably some reasonable inconsistencies such as the roads not going anywhere else. But at a glance the images of Seattle and Beijing are absolutely admirable. Both legitimate and otherwise have to think for a few minutes to get an idea of ​​the use of fake maps like this. Researchers have suggested that this technique could be used to mimic images of places for which no satellite imagery is available – such as one of the cities before, as these things were possible or were for planned expansion or zoning changes.