Thirty years ago, when Adobe dropped Photoshop on an unsuspecting world, we all experienced a bit of vertigo — wondering whether we could trust any photograph, ever again. After a fair few ‘photoshopped’ examples, we grew to understand that while impossibilities could be presented as real, that didn’t make them so. We gained a certain wisdom in distrusting our eyes.
History doesn’t repeat — but it does rhyme. Today, artificial intelligence and ‘generative adversarial networks’ (GANs) allow computers to continuously refine their depiction of real things - and real people - until it becomes impossible to spot the fake. And not just for photographs — but for audio and video. All media passed through a computer can now be seen as suspect, manipulated - and untruthful.
A CEO calls an employee to request a large, insecure transfer of funds. Does the employee argue, or do they simply do as they’re told? We’re already seeing this sort of fraud proliferate as the tools of untruth become more widely accessible. A doctored video of US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi led to a new California law, outlawing such manipulations for political purposes - but what about a smoother lie that simply seeks to wreck a reputation? How do we fight against an ever-more-schmick presentation of lies as reality?
Wherever computers threaten to overwhelm us, there’s an opportunity to fall back on our most human qualities - authenticity and relation. Deep, personal relationships resist attempts to poison them, and the authentic cultivation of those relationships - as widely as considered sensible by the individual and their role - has now become an essential leadership quality. The aloof can be spoofed; the well-known can only be parodied.
Nothing is ever perfect. Computers will continue to delight and infuriate us with their ‘gotcha’ moments - when the lie peeks through. But in a world of tight, human relationships, those moments will be both rare and brief. As we increasingly automate, we can take comfort - and truth - in one another.
Written by Mark Pesce - Futurist, Author and Educator
Mr Mark Pesce’ will appear at the 2019 National Conference: 'PR and the New World Order - Trust, transformation and relevance' by arrangement with Claxton Speakers International.