The truth ever more unreadable

Where is the truth? Maybe out there, as the agent Mulder used to say in the X-Files series but it’s still more and more difficult to get.

We have grown thinking that the truth comes from newspapers and TV but over time things changed. With the coming of the internet, everything has been questioned, especially with social networks.

The Internet puts everybody on the same level, experts and beginners, young and adults, a mixture where everybody has their say but also spreads information whose veracity is often believed as such, just because it sounds convincing, or because it inflames the lowest instincts.

However, this is not the only purpose of spreading different truths: somebody naively diffuse information just because it sounds believable, others do it because they know that some news appeal to the audience and therefore views and clicks. The result is the propagation of news, probably considered false by the author itself that, being in bad faith, significantly influences people’s opinions. And you know, people usually accept uncritically the first information they read. The problem is that readers often don’t know that, and false truths, when spread in bad faith, become an official truth for them to tell in their turn.

Then, we have people that spread their truths just to influence public opinion. So, they’re not only in bad faith, but their purpose is to create a fake reality to get their own or somebody else’s consensus. This usually happens for political aims.

Because of all that, it’s hard to interpret reality. How can we establish what is trustworthy and what is not? Hard to say, especially when we have several filters between us and reality, such as TV, newspapers, and posts that increasingly point to instigate and decreasingly to inform: so to be official doesn’t mean certainty of truth anymore.

The more channels there are between us and the source, the higher the risk of manipulation of the message. It’s a bit like when we used to play the telephone game when we were young: a game where a child whispers a word in the ear of the near mate, and so on until the last one says out loud the word heard, which often results totally different than the original.

Here’s the same, with the aggravating circumstances of the manipulation of the message, not because of the scarcity of the means but just for the desire to distort it for different aims. We shouldn’t fall into the temptation of thinking that all the things TV and newspapers say is fake, and all we find on the web is true or vice-versa, though; but it’s better to try to focus on the intentions behind certain news. What are the interests in saying something rather than something else? The reliability must be searched into the people who spread news rather than into the mean used.

Today, however, there’s something more. Technology is giving a hand to the ones who are trying to manipulate reality by twisting what we perceive from our most trustworthy senses: sight and hearing. In doing so, they’re making a parallel reality, as well as fake, the so-called fake society.

Today’s technologies like Deepfakes can replace or manipulate people’s moves in a video. And thanks to the most recent algorithms able to clone the human voice is also possible to make videos where a person, not only does things never done but says things never said.

Deepfakes are the results of the massive use of Artificial Intelligence and neural networks to execute ever more accurate calculations. So, it’s possible to use a video sample that teaches the A.I. on how to fit on the video you want to apply the new face. This is how we can make an actor’s face move with our moves, or vice-versa.

All this puts us in front of a new filter since we used to consider a video where a person does or says something a trusted source almost at 100%, now we should doubt this means too.

If this could be a new resource for making movies, it could be a serious problem if used to manipulate reality to influence public opinion, or in worst cases, to produce evidence of crimes never happened. Not to mention when used to ruin the reputation or steal personal data.

Besides that, there are also A.I. algorithms able to emulate the human voice. Google Duplex is an example. It was able to make a phone call for an appointment without being recognized as an artificial voice.

Even more worrying is when your voice is used to pronounce things you’ve never said. This is what Lyrebird is working on, a company whose algorithm allows to clone a human voice just by providing a few minutes of a voice sample to its A.I.

So, on one hand, we’ll be able to manipulate existing videos as we like, but also to create new ones with the people we like as protagonists.

Moreover, new digital avatars are being created with their own look and voice, indistinguishable from a real human. An example is the project Neon by Samsung, where digital avatars use natural movements thanks to their A.I.

Because of all this, how can we deal with this situation?

Firstly, knowing it! If you know this may happen, you’ll have a more critical stance, even in front of a video.

Moreover, some countermoves are being developed to try to avoid this technology may cause severe negative effects. One is the legal way: by making laws against those who manipulate reality but at the same time, another is providing a digital certificate: a way to recognize if a photo has been manipulated by leaving a fingerprint inside the original file so that it’s distinguishable from a fake. Even using the blockchain could be a solution, but not to distinguish a fake from the original, but rather to trace the original source. Besides, the A.I. itself could also be used to analyze and find if a video has been manipulated or not.

Beyond these extreme cases, how could a person really understand what the truth is?

It’s hard to give an exhaustive answer. The truth is not in one only place or easily recognizable. The countless means made information available for everyone, and this democratic aspect in which truth manifests itself moves the responsibility much more toward who receives the information rather than who gives it. It’s up to us to be critics and not fanatic or hypercritical. In other words, you should keep your mind open to any possibility, but without being influenced by everything you read. We should have a double view of things and learn to watch things from both sides drawing our conclusions without falling into the temptation of believing only what is convenient for us, but rather, we should be curious about the truth.

We cannot be sure of anything, but the intellectual honesty of who speaks, its intentions, and a strong dose of empathy can do a lot to understand what we’re dealing with.