“Fake news!” is the bellowed slogan of the moment. The internet, by obliterating traditional barriers to mass dissemination of information, has commodified “truth” like never before, making it easy for anyone to massage facts as the market dictates. It’s only going to get worse. Soon, you won’t be able to believe anything anymore. Right now, news consumers can at least trust their eyes and ears when they witness their leaders talking on TV or in web videos. Enjoy it while it lasts, which won’t be for much longer.
If you, like most sane, rational Americans, have been concerned about the growing “fake news” phenomenon…well, you’re in for an unpleasant reality check.
Far worse than Donald Trump ranting and labeling actual fact-based reporting as “fake news,” what’s coming has the potential to make Alex Jones, Matt Drudge, Glenn Beck, and Tucker Carlson look like Boy Scouts. Breitbart? Fox News Channel? InfoWars? The Daily Caller? Amateurs all…the rancid rants of amoral loons devoid of integrity or decency. Before long, it may not be about INTERPRETING the news; it might just be about shaping and creating the news from whole cloth. Distinguishing fake news from the real deal may soon require an advanced in information technology.
Computer-vision researchers at the University of Washington have figured out how to create fake video of well-known people (anyone, that is, who’s been filmed talking a lot). As The Atlantic puts it: “Computer scientists can now make realistic lip-synched videos — ostensibly putting anyone’s words into another person’s mouth.”
Let’s ponder that possibility for a moment, shall we? “[P]utting anyone’s words into another person’s mouth.” In a way, it makes sense; it’s just a matter of manipulating digital files. Move a few (billion) ones and zeroes around and before you know it, Barack Obama is shown speaking at the Nuremberg Rallies. Or presiding over a Politburo meeting.
Before long- and perhaps sooner than we might think- discerning truth from fiction could become be a daunting task for Americans. If you look at the video below, you’ll see the former President on the right side of the screen. It’s all well and good…until you realize he’s not speaking the words we’re hearing. It’s a faked video recreation, using audio from two separate interviews.
It’s a relatively crude effort; if you watch his lips it’s easy to know something’s amiss…but what’s going to become possible?
The technology required to manipulate video files in this manner is still relatively primitive, so someone with a trained eye could likely spot a faked video. But what happens when the technology matures and the bugs are fixed? How difficult will it be to tell a real video from a manufactured one? What happens when video is no longer considered a reliable source of information?
To be fair, the technology does have some positive real-world uses, like improving video conferencing or enhancing virtual reality. As unfortunately happens with any new and exciting technology, no good deed goes unpunished. Despite safeguards and efforts to prevent someone using it for evil…someone will inevitably use it for evil.
Come the 2020 Presidential election campaign, will see the Democratic Presidential nominee on video bragging about the virtues of buggering sheep and goats? Will we see Hillary Clinton caught in flagrante delicto with the defensive backfield of the New York Jets? Or will news channels be running videos of Barack Obama ritually sacrificing young virgins and drinking their blood? Will videos surface of Mitch McConnell being gang-raped by a herd of randy turtles?
The possibilities are endless…and disturbing.
In a world in which even the truth can’t be taken at face value, will anything have any concrete meaning and veracity? Or will the winners be the ones able to create the most believable and entertaining video propaganda?
Welcome to our brave new world.