31 Aug Authenticity in an Unreal World
While I watched a hilarious deepfake video on YouTube the other day, something I’d had at the back of my mind for a while drifted to the forefront.
How close are we to being unable to tell the difference between real and fake?
It wasn’t exactly a pressing question. After all, the fake Obi-Wan Kenobi face on my phone screen visibly glitched at the edges. He certainly wasn’t fooling anyone into thinking it was Ewan McGregor fooling around on there just yet. It was close enough to get me thinking, however.
Technology concerning AI, virtual reality, and augmented reality is moving so fast that it’s no longer practical to think of things in terms of real and fake. Instead, it’s become a matter of authenticity. As one write-up put it, there are four main factors that we can consider in place of the old convention of real or fake.
Provenance is a fancy word for the origins of a thing, and it’s the first prescribed consideration for good reason. More so than anything else, where a thing comes from goes a long way in shaping how people feel about it.
AI and Virtual Reality are barely accessible to the general public, yet the field already seems mired in controversy and littered with bad actors. The failure of Meta’s metaverse is a prime example of this in recent times. Facebook as a company has had a long and troubling history of controversy and abuse of consumer trust that all but ensured a negative reaction to their virtual reality enterprise.
The next important question that comes to mind when we think about authenticity in virtual spaces concerns the rules that govern it. Just like in the real world, rules give virtual spaces and products an air of legitimacy and allow us to feel at ease in those spaces.
This is non-negotiable and helps not only to protect those within those spaces but also to keep the corporations that are leading the charge in check. While corporate interests can be a powerful driving force, corporate greed can be the bane of any emerging sector.
One of the issues that AI has shown early on is that it has a tendency to internalize the biases of whoever worked on it. This is a particularly dangerous thing where tech is involved as people see computers and AI as impartial arbiters of logic.
So, letting the wrong people work behind the scenes runs the risk of further disenfranchising already vulnerable groups and broadcasting these biases as fact to a trusting audience of end users.
This point is linked to provenance as well, and we saw this play out with Meta. Mark Zuckerberg does not inspire confidence in people, and that distrust is part of the reason the venture failed.
The final consideration is the most obvious; purpose. Virtual reality and AI have infinite potential to benefit us as a species in almost every field, from early childhood education to complex medical procedures.
However, many people seem to see all emergent fields as an opportunity for profit above and above all else. This attitude poisons the well for good-faith investment and engagement with the technology and those that advocate for it.
The Bottom Line
The advent of more advanced AI and Virtual/Augmented reality technology has necessitated a paradigm shift in terms of how we look at things we engage with. However, that doesn’t mean we need to be fearful or apprehensive as long as we follow these guidelines.