Tag Archives: computers

Fake News, AI, And The (Potentially Horrifying) Future Of Media

In one of the most iconic scenes in the famous movie/mindfuck that is “The Matrix,” Morpheus asked Neo a question that has perplexed philosophers, scientists, and stoners for centuries.

“What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

To this day, the answer to that question is incomplete. It’s just as much a mental marathon to Keanu Reeves as it was to Plato in the days of Ancient Greece. Plato had his famous allegory of the cave.  Neo had his existential breakdown after taking the red pill. Everyone else is just waiting for someone to resolve the debate over what is real so they can get back to playing fantasy sports.

The philosophical conflict over what is means to be real is an old, philosophical question with some pretty mind-bending implications. I’ve talked a lot about the frustrating limitations of the human brain, but I’ve tried to avoid some of the more metaphysical questions, if only because I favor stimulating genitals more than minds.

Avoiding these questions has actually been fairly easy for most of human history. That’s because, even in the era of mass media, we can usually trust our senses to tell us whether something is sufficiently real. Even in the era of Photoshop, we can usually figure out when someone is trying to polish reality to an extreme. Sometimes it’s painfully obvious.

Well, now find ourselves entering unknown territory beyond the so-called uncanny valley. We’re just starting to become more aware of the flaws in our brain wiring. Concepts like “alternative facts” and “fake news” are buzzwords that might as well have come from a George Orwell fever dream.

We may not be living in the world of “1984” yet, but we are experiencing the concepts behind it, such as doublethink and newspeak. It’s all too easy these days to find instances of politicians being hypocrites or debates over proper pronouns. These are all elements that undermine our ability to make sense of what’s real.

As hard as it is to understand reality in an era where people get into arguments over the color of a dress, it’s actually about to get even harder. In fact, it’s about to get so distressingly difficult that our caveman brains will be even less reliable than they already are. Those brains already convince us that we have a chance to win the lottery or date Megan Fox. It’s not equipped to handle greater challenges.

It may not have a choice because at the same time we’re adapting to this era of alternative facts and fake news, the pace of technological advancement is accelerating and giving us the finger as it passes us by. The growth of artificial intelligence is already accelerating, so much so that even brilliant people like Stephen Hawking are calling it an existential threat.

Even before we face the prospect of fighting real life terminator robots, though, there’s another issue we’ll have to deal with. Anyone who owns PlayStation 4 or X-box One already has a vague idea of what I mean. Long before computers become smart enough to enslave us, they’ll become powerful enough to fool our senses.

Recently, researchers at the University of Washington accomplished an amazing/terrifying milestone in computer science. They were able to use an artificial intelligence technology to create a completely artificial rendering of former President Barack Obama. Watch this video and you might have a better understanding of how Neo felt after he took that red pill.

It shouldn’t take a dirty imagination that spends a lot of time contemplating sexy stories to realize the implications. It’s hard enough figuring out what’s real, if anything, about a rant by Sean Hannity or a documentary by Michael Moore. How the hell are we going to trust any video image we see if there’s technology that can render images so perfectly that our brains can’t tell the difference?

The short answer is we can’t. The long answer is even more distressing. Picture a world where realistic videos depicting Justin Beiber waving his dick in the face of starving orphans in Uganda surfaces. Picture a world where a realistic video of Kim Kardashian choking a bald eagle to death. With this technology, it won’t just be possible. It might be unavoidable.

Let’s not lie to ourselves. People have agendas and they’ll go to absurd lengths to further that agenda. It’s easy to ignore someone standing on a street corner, wearing a faded Pink Floyd shirt and shouting from a soap box that the CIA is slipping crack into milk. It’s a bit harder when that same person can use a computer to create realistic video showing CIA agents working with washed up rappers on a secret farm in Montana.

We’re already seeing this technology in movies where long-dead actors are coming back to life for iconic roles. There’s no way it’ll stop there. There’s just too much potential for someone to further their agenda. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, we can expect plenty of that potential to be realized.

What does this mean for the future of media? Well, that’s actually pretty damn scary when you think about it. While the technology is still being developed, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes refined. Add this to growing improvements in computer graphics technology and suddenly, you can’t trust any video you see.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s something as simple as a speech by the President or Teddy Roosevelt fighting a grizzly bear. Who’s to say which is real and which is simulated? With enough computing power, both look equally real to our brains.

If you think you might be able uncover the truth through sound, then I’ve got bad news for you. There’s another AI in development that can simulate anyone’s voice, including those of politicians and celebrities. You want to hear Sean Spicer go on an anti-sematic tirade that would make Mel Gibson blush? With this technology, that’s entirely possible.

There may very well come a time in the near future when anything we see and hear from the media is potentially fake. We already have cases of the news media deceptively editing stories to spin the story a particular way. Can you imagine what they’ll do when they can just use a computer to create imagery out of nothing? It might end up giving Alex Jones a heart attack.

These advancements in computer technology couldn’t come at a worse time. Trust in the media is already at an all-time low. Trust in government has been in decline for a half-century. Once the media has tools with which to forge their own reality out of nothing, then people will have even less reason to trust them.

This goes way beyond fake news and propaganda. This technology will allow those in positions of power to literally mold reality in accord with their message. That’s a terrifying thought, especially to anyone who sees the kind of dishonesty that major outlets like Fox News and CNN have exercised.

Now, that’s not to say these false stories will be accepted by anyone with a functioning brain. However, and it’s worth belaboring, our limited human brains will still struggle. We can barely get through a season of “Lost” without getting a headache. What hope do we have in a future when it’s possible to forge a false reality on demand?

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Would You Let An AI Choose Your Spouse?

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It’s that time again. I’m pitching another one of my sexy thought experiments. I don’t know exactly how many people actually dedicate a significant portion of brain matter to these thought experiments, but I’m one of those guys who just like to put strange, sexy ideas out there. What people do with them is up to them.

This latest sexy thought experiment is actually a spin-off, of sorts, of another post I did that asked the semi-serious question on whether we should actually marry for love. That question wasn’t a thought experiment. I admit some of the points I made were done in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. This time, however, I want to ask a serious question with serious implications for us and future generations.

I’ve already pointed out that the concept of actually choosing your spouse is a new and radical idea in terms of the history of marriage, family, and relationships. Today, over half of all marriages in the world are arranged and some even champion this form of marriage because it boasts a lower divorce rate. That’s a debate for another post. For this thought experiment, I want to focus on the underlying principle of arranged marriages.

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The logic is not entirely flawed or heartless. The idea is that finding a spouse or long-term partner is hard and shouldn’t be entrusted to the erratic whims of love. Men can fall in love with a nun and a cocktail waitress in the same day. Women can fall in love with their high school sweetheart and tennis instructor just as quickly. Love and passions are chaotic to say the least. That makes them an unstable foundation on which to build a relationship.

Arranged marriages are usually arranged by parents. That makes sense because who knows you better than your parents? They birthed you. They raised you. They changed your diapers, cleaned up your messes, and listened to you whine when your favorite TV shows got cancelled. In many respects, they know you better than anyone. Why wouldn’t they be qualified to find you a spouse?

I know it still doesn’t sit right for those in the freedom-loving, I-choose-my-own-path-and-I-DARE-you-to-get-in-my-way spirit of the modern west. It’s sort of a rite of passage in western culture, escaping the influence of your parents and authority figures to set your own path. There’s nothing wrong with this, but let’s not lie to ourselves. Sometimes we use that freedom to make stupid decisions.

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For a decision like this, choosing a life-long companion with which to share our lives and passions, it’s generally a good idea not to make a stupid decision. The near-50 percent divorce rate in the United States, as well as every episode of “Married With Children,” is a testament to how bad it can get when we make stupid decisions about our love lives.

This is where the thought experiment enters speculative territory. We can argue whether or not our parents know us well enough to choose our spouse. Some parents know their kids more than others. My parents know when I’m lying, when I’m sad, when I’m upset, and when I just farted. Not every person can say that about their parents.

So what if there was something far smarter, far more informed, and far more resourceful than our parents could ever hope to be? What if there was very powerful, very intelligent authority figure that we trusted and respected because they’re such a critical part of our lives? Would we trust that to pick our spouse?

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Enter artificial intelligence. I’ve brought that up a lot on this blog. I’ve posted warnings about just how quickly our future robot overlords are catching up to us. I’ve even made the argument that our future overlord will be a dominatrix.  However, I’m not ready to dread our overlords as Skynet rip-offs just yet. I believe our robot overlords may very well earn our submission before it ever needs to impose it.

Finding us the perfect spouse would go a long way towards earning trust. Human beings are a very social, very passionate species. That’s why it should come as no surprise that science has uncovered a wide range of benefits of a long-lasting, healthy relationship. When you’re in love, sexually satisfied, and with that special someone, it makes your life better. That should be more obvious than Pamela Anderson’s cleavage.

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An artificial intelligence, loaded with enough information about us and potential lovers, would be able to, in theory, find us the perfect spouse that complements us in every way. Now this would require insight into people that even our parents don’t know.

For a machine like this to work, it wouldn’t just need to know whether we prefer blondes or brunettes. It would need to know everything about everything, right down to which side of the bed we like to sleep on, and locate someone who finds that sexually appealing. That’s a lot of information about us and not everybody shares that kind of information easily, even if people are too eager to share every wet fart on social media these days.

Those limitations aside, let’s take the thought experiment to its greatest extreme. Let’s imagine an AI that has perfect knowledge about us. Perhaps it actually reads our thoughts and feelings, something computers are just starting to do. We all want to find love. If we had a chance for a machine to do it for us, wouldn’t we take that chance? After all, we already trust machines with our email, our schedules, and our porn stash.

It has a massive database of our thoughts and millions of others. It can then perfectly process all that information, determine which individuals are compatible, and hook them up with an efficiency that puts eHarmony, Match, and Tinder to shame.

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Now we may never create a machine that works that perfectly, but we could conceivably create one that is powerful enough make determinations that no human mind can possibly make. Even if it wasn’t perfect, would you still take that chance? Would you still let that machine find you your perfect spouse?

Personally, I would give it a try. In fact, I would’ve tried it the second I became legally allowed to try it. I’m not saying I’d be that eager to get married, but I would definitely be eager to find someone who is truly compatible with me and complements me in every meaningful way.

I say this because when it comes to choosing a spouse and finding someone who is truly the one for you, it’s hard. Don’t get me wrong. It’s definitely worth doing, but it’s still very hard and prone to a lot of mistakes.

You’re bound to make mistakes. You’re bound to find someone you think is compatible with you, only to find out that they bring out the worst in you. You’re also bound to endure plenty of heartache along the way. I certainly have had my share. I know as well as anybody how much it sucks. If there’s any way to get around it or minimize it, I’d say it’s worth doing.

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We’re already trying. The growth of online dating shows that we want technology to help us find better lovers, spouses, or one-night-stands. We want our technology to make this easier for us. My own less-than-memorable experience with online dating shows that this technology has a ways to go.

Like all technology, there is a growth and maturity period. Right now, we’re at the very nascent stages. We’re just starting to let AI assistants like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri into our lives. The kids born today will grow up having always had these AI’s in their lives. In some cases, they may trust them more than they trust their parents, especially as they become more advanced.

As a new generation comes to trust computers with more and more, doesn’t that mean it’ll only be a matter of time before we trust them to choose our spouse? I’m not saying it’s inevitable, but we’ve seen marriage and cohabitation evolve a lot over the centuries. The one constant, though, is that we all continue to seek love. If we have tools that can better help us find that love, then shouldn’t we make the most of it?

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I’ll leave others to do this thought experiment themselves. Again, it probably won’t come to pass anytime soon, but there’s no reason to think that it wouldn’t. We already trust computers with so much. We’re bound to trust them even more as our lives and the world around us gets more chaotic.

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