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October 30, 2017

I've Seen The Future of Fake News and It's Terrifying [Warden]

Could someone type a sentence into their computer and make those words come of your mouth?

Literally? No. Could they make someone else believe you said those words through digital manipulation? Yes. The technology is already here and it's coming to consumers soon.

I recently listened to a Radiolab podcast that revealed some new audio and visual technology that is certain to make divining the truth even more difficult in a digital media landscape that's already saturated with propaganda.

Radiolab is an excellent podcast--one of my favorites--but it's produced with a left leaning worldview so that all of the nefarious possibilities stemming from this technology coming to to the producers' and hosts' minds are, of course, Trump related.

While this is an eye rolling annoyance, I do encourage you to listen to the podcast because they're dead right in their broader concerns, even while being somewhat narrow minded in the particulars.

The first bit of technology that Radiolab features is a piece of audio software still under development by Adobe. For those of you who don't play around with digital imagery, Adobe is the market leader for audio and video editing software. They are the creators of Photoshop and a handful of other complimentary programs.

Recently, they've built a program that can replicate your speech patterns and tone almost precisely so long as they're able to capture at least 40 minutes of your speech (20 minutes for sub-optimal results). According to Adobe, within these 40 minutes you will produce every phonetic combination that their algorithm needs to reproduce the entire English language in your voice. The program accomplishes this by slicing, dicing and reassembling the speech that they've capture from you.

Recently, Adobe presented this technology at a tradeshow. The results are hair raising. With the required 40 minutes of recorded speech, they can literally type whatever they want into the program and reproduce it in the speaker's own words.


Now why would anyone ever create this software? Adobe says it's to make it easier to do Hollywood voiceover work. One of the most challenging aspects to movie making is capturing good audio from the actors. Much of it often has to be re-voiced after the film is shot. This is time consuming and often noticeable, as the acoustics are always different from the original shoot.

But you can imagine how this technology might be used not only in propaganda, but also for run-of-the-mill mischief. Imagine calling someone's wife and creating an entire maliciously fake conversation from her "husband."

So maybe you're thinking, Well, that's just audio, right? I mean, the scope of deception is pretty limited.

Yeah. Now check this out. You can now digitally alter someone's face in real time using a web came and a greenscreen type mask. Yes, the deception is still detectible... for now. Imagine where we'll be in a few years.

Here's the Radiolab example from their podcast.

As I said, not quite there but close enough to see where it's going.

The most interesting thing about the Radiolab podcast was when they interviewed one of the people who are developing this technology and inquired about the greater implications of doing so.

The woman they talked to had no answer for them. She clearly hadn't thought much about it and seemed annoyed when they persisted in this direction of questioning. Her attitude was pretty much, well SOMEONE will figure it all out.

I've had a similar experience with my brother-in-law. He's literally a programming genius who dropped out of college to work for a company that develops smart home technology.

I'm constantly trying to engage him on the social and cultural implications of technological advances that I read about in the news. He consistently shrugs me off--he's considered none of it, not even privacy issues. That's not how he's wired. All he wants to do is solve the problem in front of him. The rest of it is someone else's issue.

I don't expect him to actually do anything about it, but I'm deeply bothered by his nonchalance. We're hurtling at break neck speed into uncharted territory. No generation before has experienced such a rapidly changing world, and it seems that the people pushing the boundaries never give a moment's thought to any potential negative effects or hazard of doing so.

And of course there will be downsides. How can there not be? You can't undo thousands of years of evolution and societal conditioning in a few years. We're simply not built for this.

The other day I had a conversation with my brother about drone technology, self driving cars, automated food preparation and other new inventions that are in the works. He made a comment that stuck with me. "They keep telling us this stuff will make our lives better, but it hasn't."

I think he's right. I don't see fewer life stresses, more leisure time or a richer life experience being generated from this new digital world we're in. The problem is that there doesn't seem to be any way to pause and think any of this over. We're stuck with whatever they lay on us. It's an unfortunate side effect of capitalism, globalism and the basic human failings of greed and hubris. Hopefully we can adjust.


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posted by Open Blogger at 08:34 PM

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