Deep fakes could threaten democracy. What are they and what can be done?

Donald Trump Fake News

Mr Donald TRUMP, President of the United States of America. Copyright: European Union Event: EU Leaders’ meeting with the President of the USA

This article is brought to you thanks to the strategic cooperation of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum. 

Authors: Andrew Chakhoyan, Founder and Managing Partner, Strategic Narrative Consulting


Will deep-fake technology destroy democracy, asked the New York Times. While some of us are just learning the jargon, others expect that we’ll enter this brave new post-fact world in a year or two. Concerned with the emerging tech trend, a group of US lawmakers sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence with this warning:

“Hyper-realistic digital forgeries use sophisticated machine learning techniques to produce convincing depictions of individuals doing or saying things they never did, without their consent or knowledge. By blurring the line between fact and fiction, deep fake technology could undermine public trust in recorded images and videos as objective depictions of reality.”

At present, we can spot most forgeries with the naked eye. But, as with all things digital, the improvements are exponential. And where technology will fail to convince, the confirmation bias will bridge the gap. If the content conforms to your beliefs, you are likely to miss the unnatural facial expressions or muffled voice track.

A deep fake classic is a video by Buzzfeed that features President Obama making outrageous proclamations. The clip demonstrates how the hoax was made. One could take solace in the fact that a production of this video required an actor mimicking Obama’s voice. However, this requirement is about to expire as BBC’s experiment with voice-imitation technology has recently proved. You can try the BBC test yourself, but the majority of the people polled agreed that AI outshined a professional impersonator.

Whether with malicious intent or not, one could use open platforms like FakeApp to create rudimentary video forgeries. The internet didn’t skip a beat democratizing this dangerous capability. No longer will technical training or major resources be required to wreak considerable misinformation havoc.

It is not the first time a disruptive technology poses a major civic challenge. And we’d be right to expect that when deep fakes become more advanced, so will the detection technology. Facebook, for instance, just announced plans to accelerate its efforts to spot and weed out misinformation, and the European Union funded In Video Veritas – a browser plugin to sniff out fake videos.

But our challenge goes beyond mere detection: it is the polarization of our society, the filter bubbles, which are dangerous side effects of algorithm-powered, information-overloaded reality. Sensationalist headlines, whether factual or not, spread like wildfire already. Content of questionable quality or obscure origin can go viral in no time. Videos appeal at a visceral level more than any text or picture ever will, and the danger of the hoax spreading and shaping our perceptions is many times higher.

On one hand, greater awareness is a go-to antidote. If we understood how easy it is to manipulate a video and produce a high-quality forgery, we’d all be more vigilant. On the other hand, greater vigilance stands for diminishing trust and an impetus for further retrenchment into our digital echo chambers, extending credence to an ever-shrinking circle.

In addressing this threat, there are no easy answers. But here are a few ideas of where to start:

The policymakers must be proactive and bold. Pre-emptive measures might include early communication of penalties, be it to the producers or publishers of malicious content, and clear protocols for enforcement. More important, though, would be an outreach to traditional and digital media platforms to fundamentally rethink the safety net around online content. Take illicit peer-to-peer music sharing, for example. At its peak, the trend looked unstoppable, but it was halted by legal action in combination with new business models.

The tech giants ought to evaluate their role in society. The filter bubbles weren’t invented in Silicon Valley, but they have grown to a level that threatens our socio-political order, along with the digital platforms that reinforced them. If the product is free, you are the product, goes an old adage. As long as customers of online services remain the product, our digital commons remain vulnerable. When one pays to consume digital content on one platform or another, one has a direct stake and the standing to demand stronger quality controls. When the FT introduced a paywall in 2002, this went against many conventions at the time. A “social journalism” platform – Medium – was launched a decade later, and now offers paid subscriptions. For a membership fee of $11.99 a month, one can now watch YouTube ad-free. It looks like this trend if picking up steam already.

As the cyber-threats evolved, so did internet security. Early firewalls and antivirus software helped weed out malicious code, but now Zero Trust architecture is emerging as a new standard. The old system security relied on blacklisting of bad content and allowing all the rest in; the new approach is built on a different assumption – all content is viewed as a risk unless it has been whitelisted. Perhaps this paradigm shift is inevitable for all digital content going forward. In this respect, blockchain technology might prove to be helpful, as Antonio García Martínez argued in his article for Wired.

Besides the self-evident recommendation that we all apply critical thinking to the information we consume, it is now high time for citizens to demand from their elected representatives a new social contract for the digital age.

Deep fakes will test the strengths of our institutions and challenge fundamental ideas such as facts and truth. They will sow doubt, if not defeatism and cynicism. If humanity is unable to act pre-emptively, the proliferation of AI-enabled fabrications might set off a vicious cycle with ever-widening divisions in society accompanied by the decay of trust. We can’t afford to wait and see. We must take notice, act now, and redefine the framework of interaction between humans and algorithms.

 

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

China is a renewable energy champion. But it’s time for a new approach

250+ senior claims leaders under one roof, exchanging transformation strategy

More needs to be done to bridge the digital gender divide

Parliament commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz 75 years ago

Upgraded EU visa information database to increase security at external borders

Khashoggi murder trials must public and meet international standards, UN expert urges

How LA plans to be 1.6°C cooler by 2050

Seize the opportunities of digital technology to improve well-being but also address the risks

Women’s work faces the greatest risk of automation, says new research

Is a deal over EU budget possible today?

‘Global sisterhood’ tells perpetrators ‘time is up’ for pandemic of violence

WEF Davos 2016 LIVE: “CO2 is not the problem, it is the symptom”, the pilots who crossed the world using solar energy cry out from Davos

“The Belt and Road Initiative should be mutually beneficial for EU and China and every participating country”, Vice-President Papadimoulis of the European Parliament underscores from European Business Summit 2018

Single Market Scoreboard 2020: Member States need to do more to ensure the good functioning of the EU Single Market*

This is what the UK’s major supermarkets say about plastic packaging and the environment

MEPs demand an end to migrant deaths across the Mediterranean Sea

Pakistan’s digital revolution is happening faster than you think

Syria still suffering ‘staggering levels’ of humanitarian need, Security Council hears

From low-earth orbit, ‘envoys’ of humanity join UN space forum

Find unity ‘to halt Libya’s senseless unraveling’, UN envoy urges Security Council

Burnout is a pandemic. Why don’t we talk more about it?

UN chief extends condolences to families of China landslide casualties

Quashing myths on 2019-nCoV for better public management

DR Congo Ebola centre attacks could force retreat against the deadly disease, warns UN health chief

EU-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement sees the light as Moscow’s reaction once more looms

How speaking ‘parentese’ to your child could make them a faster learner

Five-year low inflation for Eurozone and now Mario has to finally wake up the Germans

Idai disaster: Stranded victims still need rescue from heavy rains as UN scales up response

EU-China: Council authorises signature of the agreement on geographical indications

War in Syria: ‘Carnage’, flouting of rights and international law, must stop: Guterres

Youth Forum welcomes European Commission proposal to speed up financing for youth employment

MasterCard at European Business Summit 2015: A focus on innovation will drive inclusive economic growth for Europe

Is technology key to improving global health and education, or just an expensive distraction?

Rule of Law: European Commission refers Poland to the Court of Justice to protect judges from political control

What is behind the wide reach of  fake news about Coronavirus?

EU-Vietnam trade agreement enters into force

Why impoverishment and social exclusion grow in the EU; the affluent north also suffers

COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.

Corporate tax remains a key revenue source, despite falling rates worldwide

Residents and visitors to this Dutch neighborhood could share a pool of cars and bikes

Europe might not avoid new partitioning on Ukrainian crisis

Draghi to hold on zero interest rates until he leaves ECB

This is how drones and other ‘tradetech’ are transforming international trade

Empathy and human connection: how businesses can respond to COVID-19

UNICEF reports uneven progress in 30 years of child rights treaty

3 important lessons from 20 years of working with social entrepreneurs

United States: UN chief ‘deeply saddened’ by deadly California wildfires

Coronavirus: Commission Statement on consulting Member States on proposal to further expand State aid Temporary Framework to recapitalisation measures

Europe united in not supporting a US attack on Syria

These are the world’s 10 most competitive economies in 2019

Apple’s tax avoidance scheme remains as creative as their new iPhone

Practicing healthcare: Skills of a good healthcare professional and its effects

The European Sting live from the World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

How global tech companies can champion ethical AI

Parliament wants to suspend EU accession negotiations with Turkey

‘Fire-fighting approach’ to humanitarian aid ‘not sustainable’: Deputy UN chief

This is the critical number that shows when housing breaks down

Horn of Africa: UN chief welcomes Djibouti agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia

Guterres appeals for ‘maximum restraint’ over Jammu and Kashmir, as tensions rise

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s