Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This thought comes to me often when I encounter new tech. At the dawn of the internet era I thought easy and instance access to information would unquestionably make the world a better place. I thought democratizing the ability to produce content would usher in a new time with vibrant and healthy discussion.
Instead we have anti-vaxxers and trolls. The democratizing of voices has primarily revealed that many of us are cruel and stupid. Throwing off the gate-keepers of information has left each of us struggling to sift the good content out of the oceans and oceans of bad one google search at a time. Because it turns out that creating good content is hard and being kind isn’t our first instincts, and when you’ve got a little glowing screen in your hand it doesn’t draw the best from us.
Watching this play out in real time has made me ask a new question when assessing new tech. That new question is what is the worst that this thing might accomplish if used or abused. Enter deepfakes. In summary, artificial intelligence can produce believable video and audio that is fictitious. Have a look at Steve Buscemi’s face on Jennifer Lawrence’s body with her voice if you want to have nightmares. If you want to read more about deepfakes have a look at this article about it from The Guardian.
Can you imagine a video of Elizabeth Warren surfacing on election night saying something super racist? Because I can. Sure the video will be debunked pretty quickly. But that sort of thing would spread like wildfire on social media and leave negative emotions that I don’t believe a debunking will clear off immediately.
We only see the benefits of new tech. We never consider the costs. The guys who developed the deepfake tech did so for the movie industry. They hope to make post production fixes without calling the actors back to reshoot. They hope to better match visuals to translations into different languages. Sure. That’s all good.
But my god. We already cannot align on what reality is. How can you in good conscience put something else out in the world that will only make truth less and less clear?