I tend to be skeptical about conspiracy theories and wild projections about what “might happen”. I am also one who likes to sees more benefit from technology than harm. With a technology background and propensity to keep abreast of topics like “block chain” and “big data” I feel able to sort through a lot of the alarming headlines.
We are reaching a point, though, where there are legitimate reasons to raise enough alarm about the ability to control technology in a number of areas. Fortunately, many people in the industry have enough concern to manage some of the risks, at least in the short term. One firm has created such a powerful word generator that is almost impossible to distinguish from a real person. They have decided to not make it widely available because of fear of how it might be used in the wrong hands. (We already know how less sophisticated tools have used social media to disrupt governance around the world.) The developers are proposing a requirement that computer generated messages be labeled “not human”.
It’s now possible to create talking videos of people who are no longer alive, or to deliver messages that are fake, in the form of very believable videos. A Ted Talk by one of the developers of the technology indicates they are also working on ways to identify the fake videos. Unfortunately, making that ability widespread is an even bigger challenge.
Most people realize that a photo can be photo-shopped to create a fake picture. The ability to fake videos is still a surprise to many people. The technology is related to the mobile app SnapChat that adds adornments to a person’s face. The graphic effects of action movies today will hopefully help people realize that video can be altered.
There are realistic things that can be done to harness new technologies and manage the risks. We are now reaching a point where some constraints and guidelines are needed. The European Union has made some meaningful steps that we should seriously consider.
The WALL-E Movie
Disney produced a movie in 2008 about a world where computers had tricked humans into an easy life where they thought they were in control, but were really being controlled by the computers. Humans were being coddled in space. Wall-e was a robot on earth cleaning up the trash that humans had left behind.
He becomes more human and ends up saving the humans to return to earth. Neither the problem nor the solution in the movie are realistic, but it does give food for thought.