Tag Archives: Fox News

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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Bill O’Reilly: The Impact, Aftermath, And Implications

Last week was a good week for fans of workplace safety and opponents of old, cantankerous blowhards with their own TV show. Bill O’Reilly, the old, white, racially-insensitive troll, has been fired. I imagine feminists, hippies, and Michael Moore fans are still celebrating in the streets.

It turns out you can get away with being a raging dick to minorities, liberals, and anyone who ever protested a war. However, if you’re accused of sexual harassment by enough women over a long period of time, so much so that advertisers start ditching your show, you can only go for so long.

It’s not exactly tragic. Bill O’Reilly isn’t exactly stressed for money. He’s leaving Fox News with $25 million, which is on top of the boatloads of money he’s earned from various publishing and media contracts. He doesn’t have to work a day for the rest of his life. He has more than enough money to live in a mansion, eat caviar, and wipe his ass with hundred dollar bills until the day he dies.

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Even so, it certainly doesn’t look good. Love him or hate him, Bill O’Reilly was the highest-rated show on Fox News. He regularly crushed far more likable personalities with minimal effort and he probably did it with a goddamn boner. The man, as arrogant a prick he was at times, had a sizable audience. His voice carried weight.

Fox News had so many reasons to keep him and let him spew his brand right-wing verbal diarrhea for as long as he wanted. The public might have been willing to overlook his unacceptable treatment of women in the past, but it’s just not as easy to hide that sort of thing anymore.

This isn’t the era of Don Draper and Mad Men where sexual harassment might as well have been professional equivalent of a paper cut. This is an era where one poorly-worded tweet can and will ruin your life. I’m sure O’Reilly misses the days of Don Draper and pretty female secretaries who didn’t mind a light tap on the ass every now and then, but those days are long gone.

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Now I could spend multiple posts going over Bill O’Reilly’s downfall. It’s certainly a hell of a story, albeit not a very sexy one. The man ruffled a lot of feathers and pissed off a lot of people, which is to be expected. Like Michael Moore and Lena Dunham, he’s a professional troll. That’s what he does and, based on his net worth, he does it very well.

That said, I’m going to hold off on joining the hippies still dancing in the streets. I’m also going to hold off joining the chorus of right-wing apologists who would defend O’Reilly, even if he was caught choking a bald eagle with his bare hands. Those are losing arguments with no substance.

Instead, I want to focus on the impact and implications of O’Reilly’s downfall because it’s not just a non-tragedy. It’s actually part of a trend that started with Roger Ailes. Like O’Reilly, Ailes wasn’t brought down by his politics or his competence. He was brought down by charges of harassment by women.

That alone is pretty telling. These man can have some pretty disgusting politics. They can spit on minorities, shame women, and support policies that only serve to facilitate old white men getting their dicks sucked in every possible way. However, they have to become serial abusers of women in order to be taken down.

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Don’t get me wrong. Men who abuse women, regardless of their position or politics, deserve to be punished. Abuse isn’t just wrong. It’s a crime. If O’Reilly and Ailes are guilty of this crime, then they should pay a price. If they don’t, then there’s no reason for them to stop. That’s just basic justice.

Unfortunately, this is where I know I’m going to piss off the dancing hippies. As bad as the allegations against O’Reilly are, it’s not clear just how true they are. Now many parts of it may actually be true. O’Reilly may be every bit as despicable as these women claim. However, without proof that can withstand scrutiny in a court of law, it’s unreasonable to just accept those claims outright.

I know. I can already hear angry feminists, beta males, and Rachel Maddow fans yelling at me. The very notion that O’Reilly didn’t do these horrible things, given the ugliness of his politics, seems downright offensive.

Let me make clear, though, that I’m not sticking up for O’Reilly or Ailes. I think both men are arrogant pieces of shit who trolled their way to fame and fortune. They’ve said and done things I don’t agree with, but you can say that about almost everyone in your life, be they a talking head on Fox News or a close family member. The difference is a matter of degree.

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Now given the sheer number of claims, as well as the extent to which O’Reilly settled them, it’s reasonable to conclude that there’s something going on here. As we saw with the Duke Lacrosse case and the UVA rape case, false allegations tend to fall apart when subjected to scrutiny.

One or two women making an allegation with little evidence doesn’t prove much, especially when the allegation is against someone as rich and despised as Bill O’Reilly. There’s too much reason to suspect ulterior motives. It’s when multiple allegations emerge over time from multiple women who are not in contact with one another when a pattern emerges.

That’s still not to say that all the allegations against O’Reilly are true. Chances are, they’re not nearly as pornographic as the media claims. Anything that makes a media headline is usually designed to titillate more than inform. That’s just how media works. Ask any porn star.

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However, given how many rich men there are in media and how only a handful of them generate this many sexual harassment allegation, it’s not reasonable to say that every woman is lying. The truth, as is often the case, is usually somewhere in between and not nearly as sexy as we think.

Now that O’Reilly has joined Ailes as old, right-wing blowhards who were done in by sexual harassment claims, a larger pattern has emerged. Now, the ardent critics of these trolls, of which there are many, have a new tactic for taking them down. They don’t have to contest their politics or engage in meaningful debate. They just have to nail them for harassment.

That, in my opinion, is a dangerous precedent. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are serious crimes. They should be treated and adjudicated as such. If they become tactics for silencing blowhards, no matter how much an asshole they may be, then that denigrates actual victims of these crimes.

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It also gives opponents of these men powerful excuses to avoid actually confronting the substance of their words. As I’ve mentioned before, those kinds of excuses can create a dangerous mentality that allows people to circumvent critical thought of a situation.

In the end, I’m not going to miss Bill O’Reilly any more than I miss Roger Ailes. I really do hope the women accusing him prove their case. I hope that proof comes out and we can know with certainty whether they’re actually true. The truth has a way of adding greater weight to any situation. It also has a knack for getting lost in the media spectacle.

Whatever happens to O’Reilly from here on out is fairly inconsequential. He’s already made his money. He doesn’t need to troll any more unless he really misses the attention. With the precedent set, though, we may see more of this tactic against the professional trolls of the world. As annoying as these trolls are, the fact such tactics are necessary says a lot about how willing some are to find excuses instead of reasons.

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