Meh deep fakes

A lot of people sound worried that new and improving techniques for creating very convincing videos of anyone saying and doing anything will lead to widespread misinformation and even a break down of trust in society.



I’m not very worried. Two hundred years ago, essentially all communication, other than in-person conversation, was done through written word, which is easy to fake and impersonate. In particular, legal contracts were (and are) typeset, and so are trivially fakeable. But although there were (and are) cases of fraud and deception through foraged documents, society has straightforward mechanisms for correctly attributing such communication to individuals. Note, for instance, that multi-billion-dollar contracts between companies are written in text, and we have never felt it necessary to record difficult-to-fake videos of the CEOs reciting them.

The 20th century was roughly a technological Goldilocks period where technology existed to capture images and video but not to fake them. Images, of course, have been fakeable at modest cost for many years. Even in 1992, Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun used high-tech fraudulent security footage as a realistic plot point in then-current day. Although we may see some transition costs as folks are tricked into believing fraudulent videos because the ease of faking them has not yet entered the conventional wisdom, eventually people will learn that video can’t be trusted much more than the written word.Which is to say, most of the time you can trust both text and video because most people aren’t trying to defraud you, but extra confirmatory steps are taken for important cases.a   This will not be catastrophic because our trust networks are not critically dependent on faithful videos and images.

I am much more worried about technology that allows people to convincingly fake in-person communication, since we often take such communication as “ground truth” about reality and use it as the foundation of our trust networks. A world where you can’t assume that it’s really your mother knocking on your front door is much scarier.

Footnotes

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  1. Which is to say, most of the time you can trust both text and video because most people aren’t trying to defraud you, but extra confirmatory steps are taken for important cases.
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