It’s Not Just Deepfake in the Future Which Should Worry Us

In the movie Interstellar, which begins in 2067, we are treated to a scene in a classroom. The School Principal is explaining to an exasperated parent that the Apollo mission to the moon never happened. It was a public relations scam to force the Soviet Union to bankrupt itself by trying to beat the Americans. This revisionist doctrine was now being taught – and believed.

The purpose of the manipulation was to redirect education away from the sciences and towards agriculture. Although fiction, this scene was a perfect example of how history can be changed in order to manipulate the future.

Our increasingly anxious attention is focused on how AI-driven deepfake is going to have a direct, negative impact on our future. The anxiety encompasses money, war, politics, sustainability, well everything, in fact. With today’s imagery being altered to look totally authentic, it’s little wonder we are as uncertain now as generations past were when Hitler annexed Sudetenland or the Americans dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

When humanity is frightened of the present, and uncertain of the future, it tends to look to history for guidance.

So the ground for altering history has become even more fertile, thanks to AI. But it’s not as if this technology has created a whole new area of malfeasance, either. Government agents have been (mal)practicing this endeavour for a hundred years. Recently, the New York Times published an article that cites the criminal altering of records as far back as 1903. The victims of this tended to be vulnerable communities which authorities wanted to marginalize.

Imagine the Unimaginable

The threat posed by the introduction of AI to revisionist history, is that it can mutate a so-called fact from authoritative to empirical. AI has the power to demonstrate irrefutable proof of an occurrence simply because it can show a photograph of, say, a meeting between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. The protocol and evolved deepfake deployment would ensure it cannot be flagged as fake. This would be supported by the discovery of documents which show an MoU between the two heads of state. An agreement to draw the United States into a conflict which would bankrupt it and allow a unified Europe to control the future global economy. Current historians would claim that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour may have been to augment the European agreement. Seems naïve and ridiculous, doesn’t it?

But in fifty or a hundred years’ time, this ‘evidence’ will either be the truth or the possibility of the truth or worse, will create confusion about what is the truth and what is not. This last scenario is the most damaging of all. What has occurred in the past is the DNA of ourselves and our communities.

Maybe in fifty or a hundred years time, if this naïve and ridiculous example of deepfake is believed by enough people, it will reshape the world.

“History is who we are and why we are who we are.”  

                                                               David McCullough, Historian

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