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In Reaction on

Technology at Its Best and Worst

Seeing is believing. Well, at least it used to be.

Our sense of truth is being attacked once more. It’s not Russian trolls on Facebook. It’s something called “deepfakes.”

Deepfake, a combination of the terms “deep learning” and “fake,” is an artificial intelligence-based, human image synthesis technique. It’s software that is able to manipulate video and images beyond our discretion, sometimes creating completely synthetic content from image input and superimposed voiceovers.

The technology is cool. It enabled Lucas Film to bring back Princess Leia in “Rogue One.”

Then there is Jordan Peele voicing a deepfake of Barack Obama.

The latter example is less cool. In fact, it is deeply concerning. The voice and influence of our leaders could be completely hijacked by almost anyone. God forbid a fabricated video clip starts a war. The public might believe that something was said by someone that simply wasn’t.

What can we do? The capabilities of the technology have become so advanced that the only way to distinguish a fake video from an authentic one is to enter the clip into another computer program designed specifically to authenticate images and film.

It is very frustrating for anyone concerned with access to the truth. Worst-case scenario: we just shut our eyes to everything.

The ultimate threat does not come from the public believing everything they see, it comes from them believing nothing.

This was the case with fake news stories on Facebook. Sure, for a second people believed whatever they saw on their newsfeed and this certainly altered the way some public figures were received. But soon enough, the masses learned about fake news and now only a minority of people believe something they read on Facebook. (In fact, a recent study conducted by Blue Fountain Media shows only 4% of the American public trusts Facebook with information)

The initial doubt turns into absolute skepticism. You mustn’t be held accountable if you can simply write things off as fake.

This raises larger questions about technology in general. Technological advancement is not absolutely good — not if it gets in the wrong hands. Should we begin to question the unimpeded liberty we have given to its development?