Philosophy In A World Of Mass Deception

Our current political situation is so horribly distressing that it is easy to lose sight of even more horrible things that may be on the horizon.

A recent article at Business Insider briefly surveys some of the forthcoming technological developments, some just a few years away, that threaten to put us in a persistent state of Cartesian doubt: “tools that will allow anyone to easily create fraudulent, photo-realistic video and audio.”

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and computer-generated imagery (CGI) technology, over the coming decade it will become trivial to produce fake media of public figures and ordinary people saying and doing whatever hoaxers can dream of—something that will have immense and worrying implications for society…

It will open up worrying new fronts in information warfare, as hostile governments weaponise the technology to sow falsehoods, propaganda, and mistrust in target populations. The tools will be a boon to malicious pranksters, giving them powerful new tools to bully and blackmail, and even produce synthetic “revenge porn” featuring their unwilling targets. And fraud schemes will become ever-more sophisticated and difficult to detect, creating uncertainty as to who is on the other end of any phone call or video-conference.

The article’s author, Rob Price, conferred with Gregory C. Allen, an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security, about the technology and our unusual historical position:

These advances mean that humanity is rapidly approaching the end of a unique period in human history. We “live in an amazing time where the tech for documenting the truth is significantly more advanced than the tech for fabricating the truth. This was not always the case. If you think back to the invention of the printing press, and early newspapers, it was just as easy to lie in a newspaper as it was to tell the truth,” Allen said. “And with the invention of the photograph and the phonograph, or recorded audio, we now live in a new technological equilibrium where—provided you have the right instruments there—you can prove something occurred… we thought that was a permanent technological outcome, and it is now clear that is a temporary technological outcome. And that we cannot rely on this technological balance of truth favouring truth forever.”

Here is “Barack Obama,” “Donald Trump,” and “Hillary Clinton” discussing some of the technology developed by a start-up known as Lyrebird.

Thinking a bit further down the road, if holographic technology and built-in augmented reality become common, the problems may be even more severe.

I wonder what the effect of this technology will be on philosophy. I’m not talking about creating fake but convincing video footage of, say, notorious utilitarian Alastair Norcross endorsing the categorical imperative (though someone should totally do that). Rather, I’m interested in both philosophy’s possible roles in helping humanity live with technology that could have us thinking that it is likely—not just possible—that we are being fooled, that is, life regularly expecting deception; and also the ways philosophy might be changed by such technology, if at all.

For further horrifying speculation about the future, watch Black Mirror

sounds like “liar”

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