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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, June 13, 2024

Around the Corner: Averting the end of truth

AsherColumn

AI has gripped the United States, as technologies like ChatGPT and Midjourney have astonished the nation with their uncanny abilities. Midjourney, an AI art generator, can convert a prompt into an art piece in around a minute, in any style or medium. It has effectively demonstrated that art, a bastion of human creativity, may fall to the machines sooner than was thought. Further, TikTok has seen another form of AI trending: deepfakes.

Deepfake technologies use AI to generate new reality. A deepfake algorithm, with enough input data, can produce completely new video and sound. An AI trained in President Joe Biden’s speeches could theoretically generate a fictitious one, making him say whatever one desires. As the technology stands now, it is not difficult to distinguish between the real and the deepfaked. Jittery movements and CGI-esque lighting betray the inauthenticity of deepfaked clips. The problem, however, is not so much what deepfakes can do now but what they could do in the future. Imagine a world where deepfakes are indistinguishable from reality to the human eye. The disinformation campaign in the 2016 elections would take on disastrous proportions. Unscrupulous politicians could release fake clips ruining their opponents’ reputations. Nor would its effects be limited to politics. Getting revenge on someone could be as easy as ‘leaking’ damaging videos of them to employers, schools or friends. It does not matter if deepfaked clips are debunkable. By the time they are proven false, the damage has been done. In the end, our trust in what we read or see would irreparably plummet. 

Part of what makes this future so terrifying is that it is already very similar to the present. Conspiracy theories are not only common but embraced. Flat Earth theories, proven false more than two millennia ago, are rapidly being revived. QAnon has attracted a massive following claiming that former President Donald Trump was battling a covert posse of pedophiles in the U.S. government. 

In the law, truth is an absolute defense against libel. In the world, indisputable evidence evidently is not. However, that is not a reason to despair. We can work to expand access to the greatest shield against deceit: education. It is the only lasting solution to disinformation. While simply telling people what is true or false engenders hostility, teaching them how to think critically and independently enables them to reach the truth on their own. This is not a criticism of those who are drawn in by deepfakes or disinformation but of a U.S. education system that lags behind much of the developed world. To give students the ability to avoid falling for conspiracy theories and deceit, they need a proper education. Disinformation requires a cooperative audience. Without education, it will be denied one.