Fake Nudes, Fake News, and the Destruction of Social Trust

Let’s follow up on yesterday’s high-minded discussion on our declining trust in institutions with a little on the cutting edge in internet pr0nography.

Here’s your voxsplainer:

The technology in question? A new tool, driven by machine learning, that lets users easily swap the faces of their favorite celebrities onto preexisting video images.

In other words, endless videos in which the faces of porn stars have been replaced by celebrity faces — or rather, algorithmic approximations of celebrity faces that reside deep within the Uncanny Valley.

On [Reddit’s] r/deepfakes, eerie approximations of Emma Watson, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Natalie Portman, Kristen Bell, Daisy Ridley, Ariana Grande, and many others borrow the expressions, moves, sultry-eyed camera stares, and orgiastic glee of the porn stars upon whose faces they’ve been transplanted.”

When this story first started getting traction via VICE’s Motherboard, The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway observed:

Tomorrow’s fake nudes will power the day after tomorrow’s fake news.  Horrifying, but not necessarily surprising given pr0n’s role in fueling technologies from the VCR to internet streaming.

This latest phenomenon caused National Review’s Michael B. Dougherty to observe:

And thus does AI-driven pr0n bring us back around to my theme of the past couple of days.  Information age technologies contribute to the decline of our institutions.  Increasingly what remains are mere platforms for self-expression where “art” and artifice play upon humankind’s baser instincts (obvious in the case of pr0n, less so in the case of confirmation biases) and fuel the acceleration of a vicious cycle.

It may be that we as a society will get better at processing these sorts of phenomena.  Today’s TV-saturated public is far more sophisticated in its ability to process visual media.  This is why, for example, younger generations have so little use for black & white movies.

But it was always debatable whether a society that has become far more dependent on the image over the word was a net improvement.  When we used to have that argument, one side used to be able to say “seeing is believing.”  Going forward, that may be even less true than it was.

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