The Prevalence of Fake News

President Trump has a point — there’s a lot of fake stuff out there.

Of course, manipulative tools have been available for some time.  I assume you’ve heard of the computer program Adobe Photoshop?  The publishing business where I worked for 15 years displayed a photo of an older couple with the man’s head replaced with that of a perfectly proportioned wolf.  The caption read “Photoshop — A Godsend or the Work of the Devil Himself?”  And we all know Hollywood has developed some very sophisticated tools to make anything on a movie screen look real.

But a more disturbing report is “The Reality-Distorting Tools of the Future,” a 25-minute segment in the NPR program Science Friday’s February 16, 2018 broadcast (https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/the-reality-distorting-tools-of-the-future/).  This segment begins with a discussion of the latest face-swapping technology, which is absolutely unsettling.  The referenced website has a video of actor Nicholas Cage “appearing” in roles in place of other actors.  And did you know Presidents Trump and Obama can speak Mandarin Chinese?  As far as I know, they can’t.  But you’d never know it from watching the manipulated video segments that also appear on this site.  The possibilities are endless, and YouTube has many other doctored examples.

Technologist Aviv Ovadya is quoted as calling this an “information apocalypse.”  In addition to examples, the segment provides an explanation of how “deep-fake” technology makes this possible.  Unfortunately, it’s something we all need to be aware of now.

One of the requirements for a successful democracy is an informed and educated electorate.  In this age, it pays to be very engaged… and very skeptical.

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