What Pictures Do And Don’t Tell Us

As we head into what promises (threatens?) to be a pivotal year for American democratic governance, we do so in an environment unlike any that we have previously occupied. The “disinformation” industry has really come into its own over the past several years–filling the void that has been created by the near-demise of local journalism, and taking advantage of the enormous influence of social media.

The most recent weapons against facts and accuracy are visual: “deep fakes” in which the alterations are nearly impossible to detect. The influence of those fabrications on people who have lived in a world where “seeing is believing” is difficult to predict.

In a recent article from Axios Future, philosophers considered the challenge presented by deep fakes.

One possibility they considered: Technology might “erode the evidentiary value of video and audio” with the result that we begin seeing them the way we now see drawings or paintings —  rather than as factual records. In that case, all bets are off.

As the article put it,

Normally, when you receive new information, you decide whether or not to believe it in part based on how much you trust the person telling you.

“But there are cases where evidence for something is so strong that it overrides these social effects,” says Cailin O’Connor, a philosopher at UC Irvine. For decades, those cases have included video and audio evidence.

These recordings have been “backstops,” Rini says. But we’re hurtling toward a crisis that could quickly erode our ability to rely on them, leaving us leaning only on the reputation of the messenger.

One huge implication is that people may be less likely to avoid bad behavior if they know they can later disavow a recording of their mischief.

Just think how technological advances in deep fakes can affect political campaigns.

Just in time for the presidential election, the Brookings Institution shares news about a new technique for making deep fakes, invented by Israeli researchers.  It creates highly realistic videos by substituting the face of another individual for the person who is really speaking.

Unlike previous methods, this one works on any two people without extensive, iterated focus on their faces, cutting hours or even days from previous deepfake processes without the need for expensive hardware. Because the Israeli researchers have released their model publicly—a move they justify as essential for defense against it—the proliferation of this cheap and easy deep fake technology appears inevitable.

Can videos of Joe Biden using the “n word” or Bernie Sanders vowing fidelity to communism be far behind? As the Brookings article notes,

If AI is reaching the point where it will be virtually impossible to detect audio and video representations of people saying things they never said (and even doing things they never did), seeing will no longer be believing, and we will have to decide for ourselves—without reliable evidence—whom or what to believe. Worse, candidates will be able to dismiss accurate but embarrassing representations of what they say are fakes, an evasion that will be hard to disprove.

In our incredibly polarized political environment, the temptation to “cherry pick” information–to give in to the very human impulse to engage in confirmation bias–is already strong. We are rapidly approaching a time when technology will be able to hand partisans a plausible reason to disbelieve inconvenient news about a preferred candidate, while giving others desired “evidence” about an opponent’s flaws.

We can also predict that a political party willing to employ gerrymandering, vote suppression and a wide variety of political “dirty tricks” will not hesitate to use these tools.

Uncharted territory, indeed…..


  1. “The “disinformation” industry has really come into its own over the past several years–filling the void that has been created by the near-demise of local journalism, and taking advantage of the enormous influence of social media.”

    Today, as Americans, we will move into the most heinous chapter of “disinformation” regarding the meaning of Articles I, II and III of the Constitution of the United States of American. We will be subjected to the Senate DEFENSE trial of Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump in audio and visual format. Making a lie of the responsibilities of the Legislature to protect us from such as Trump in the Executive branch; the outcome is headed to forging the Dictatorship of Trump and the White Nationals and assuring a 2nd term in the White House for the current Corleone family in residence.

    National, local, international journalism and social media will quickly follow;…with pictures to prove or disprove this country’s once democracy based on Rule of Law and the Constitution.

    “We can also predict that a political party willing to employ gerrymandering, vote suppression and a wide variety of political “dirty tricks” will not hesitate to use these tools.”

    Regarding local journalism; I have missed having a local newspaper to read at my leisure and clip articles to save but do not regret canceling my decades long subscription to the Indianapolis Star. I am waiting for my first issue of the Indianapolis Monthly magazine; hoping for local news and our connection to the world outside our city limits.

  2. Scepticism has always been and will always be the most valuable tool in any voter’s toolbox.

  3. To publish false truths one bad person must know what the truth is; otherwise he/she might publish truth by accident.

    If one bad person knows enough truth to reliably go about publishing false truths, it means that someone knows the truth.

    If someone knows how to find the truth, why in hell can’t the ordinary American find the truth?

    Because ordinary Americans can’t handle the truth.

    Those who can’t handle the truth are perfectly able to manufacture their own false truths and do not need help from others who publish false truths.

    That leaves those who can handle the truth in a lonesome place, but if a way can be created to make truth less frightening to those who can’t handle the truth, then those who can handle the truth will also be in a powerful and useful place.

  4. This one sentence is a sad statement of the USA: “The influence of those fabrications on people who have lived in a world where “seeing is believing” is difficult to predict.”

    The other word mentioned is “trust.”

    I hear more and more people saying they have turned off the news and don’t watch anything regarding D.C. politics because they don’t trust what they hear, and they are tired of listening to all the lies and chaos. “For my sanity, I refuse to listen to any of it.”

    We discuss misinformed voters all the time on this blog, and deep fakes will add to the mistrust in American institutions. Will that equate to even less voter turnout? Will our already apathetic U.S. citizens become even more apathetic?

    I get tired of quoting Plato, but he was accurate in his assessment of apathy leading to rule by our inferiors. Can we imagine a POTUS worse than Trump?

    We’ve always experienced mis- and disinformation as a rule from our government (state). They are in the business of lies and fabrication. It’s how power retains control in the hands of the few. The media is used to manufacture consent for those is power.

    My only question for the “experts” is what fabrications they will be manufacturing with the use of deep fake video and audio? The role of propaganda will take on a whole new twist?

    One can imagine seeing “foreign leaders” threatening the USA’s interests as justification for a military attack in ________.

    If someone wants to manufacture consent for an authoritarian strongman as POTUS, it doesn’t take much imagination to produce a disinformation campaign toward the American people to create that desired outcome.

  5. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates, one of them stood on a tree stump and spoke for an hour. Then the other one spoke for 90 minutes. Then the first one spoke for 30 minutes.

    Can you imagine an audience today standing in a field, listening to two guys speak for three hours? No fake news there.

    Perhaps the only way to get authentic information in the future will be to go to the rallies.

  6. If voters can be readily misinformed liberal democracy can no longer function as the only process that guarantees freedom and rights and liberty to we the people by requiring that those we hire and fire be the ones who we consent to be governed by.

    Cops and robbers have always been an iterative process. Nefarious people look for ways to game the system in their favor and law enforcement has to respond with new ways to catch them more capable than before.

    Education and parenting are now in a similar race with misinforming. Can we continue to create citizens who are a lifetime ahead of the “tricks” of those who feel that they are entitled to take whatever they need and impose whatever is best for them on others?

    Can civilization be sustained? Do our big brains ultimately confer any existential advantage or does the “law of the jungle” ultimately prevail no matter intelligence?

    We have always relied on military to protect citizens from threats outside of national borders and law enforcement to play the same role against threats inside our borders but what if commerce effectively erases borders? Do they become one and the same? Do they become global instead of national as commerce has evolved to?

    Everything that we know is coming to an end. Are we smart enough to replace it with what is up to what will be here whether or not we are ready for it?

    Nobody knows anymore.

  7. Todd,
    “They (governments) are in the business of lies and fabrication. It’s how power retains control in the hands of the few. The media is used to manufacture consent for those is power.”

    What you say is true, but it is not the whole truth and by itself may lead people to think that it is the whole (and awful) truth.

    The good truth that is left out of that statement is:
    When, say, you or I, or any other good person with good ideas and decent motivation in a representative government, are elected to lead, WE TOO MUST MANUFACTURE CONSENT FOR OUR POLICIES, or our good policies will not be voted into law.

    Manufacturing consent for policy is how one leads in a representative government. How one manufactures such consent depends more on the mental and emotional condition of the followers than on the whims of leaders. Followers who are afraid of the truth must not be told the truth and must be told something more or less than the truth in order to garner their consent for policy. Only when citizens no longer fear the truth may good leaders use truth to manufacture consent.

    Demonizing the act of manufacturing consent is giving a lot of ammunition to the bad guy and weakening one of the most important tenants of representative government.

  8. Pete … your post is most profound and compelling for further reflection. Like Yoda said long time ago: “We must unlearn what we have learned.” Thank you.

  9. Pete,
    “…what if commerce effectively erases borders? Do they (commerce and borders) become one and the same?”

    That question is the subject of my coming novel. In it, multinational companies are establishing their own countries, first in Africa and then on to other continents.

    The advantage for corporations to being a country is that the corporate country will never have to abide by or work around regulations. No red tape. No outgo for bribes or lobbyists or political action committees.

    The great leap in power for corporations is led by Erik Prince. That power comes from developing their own armies, navies, air forces, and secret intelligence agencies.

    The working title of my novel is “TROPHY STATE”. It is based on current events, just a few are mentioned above.

    Yes, for Prince and 300 other corporations with private armies, borders will disappear for commerce and war machines.

    But for people, borders (on the ground and in the world of information) will become prisons.

  10. The new movie starring James Dean, the new movie with an older Will Smith and a younger Will Smith, back towards the beginning, Avatar. The distance the ability to reanimate the dead or manipulate the present has evolved light years in a matter of a couple of decades.

    I remember having a discussion on this type of thing 15 years ago or so. Pretty soon you’re going to see film clips of Elvis Pressley, Tupac, and now probably even PeePee tapes, and it will be up to you whether you want to believe your own lying eyes. The truth, is so far behind criminality, it will probably be impossible to catch up. There is way too much happening at the same time. When you have state actors bringing their powers to bear on alternate realities and false truths, it’s going to be impossible to weed it all out.

    When morality(In the broad sense) is given a backseat to instant gratification, the seeds have been planted. A human’s conscience is there for a reason, it’s supposed to be your Spidey sense, it’s supposed to be your warning sign, it’s supposed to give you insight, but, mankind has learned how to disavow conscience, ignore conscience, and willingly create narratives they desire.

    When your conscience can be ignored, really really terrible things happen. You don’t worry about separating children from their parents, you don’t have empathy towards anyone, you don’t worry about the least advantaged among us, many refuse to see that this time is unlike any other. All of the great societies crumbled because of societal and moral decay. Throughout history, they were not conquered from the outside, they were rotted from the inside. They usually went out with a whimper.

    Ecclesiastes 8:9 Reads; ” All of this I have seen, and I applied my heart to every work that has been done under the sun, during the time that man has dominated man to his harm.”

    This time, there is no place to go and start over. The earth is full, no new frontiers, technology has changed the paradigms of society. The subversives, they have the upper hand now. The only other thing left to do? There would end up being a military coup on government. They might be the only ones who are able to tell the difference between truth and Technological manipulation of reality. Anyway you look at it, our system of government will have failed, Mankind himself has failed.

    In Romans 4:15, it reads; “In reality the Law produces wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there any transgression.”

    So basically, if there is no adherence to the laws of Governance, then there is no law, without laws there are no transgressions, Hence, the inmates run the asylum.

    So now, mankind is at the precipice. The laws of nature, the laws of empathy and conduct (conscience) and the laws of man, have been either ignored or eroded to the point of cataclysm! Men have demonized religion to the point of hatred, and, many have just gone along with the program, because they refuse to become willfully enlightened on the count of all of those peers who have willfully blinded themselves. And willfully spread disinformation about, nature, religion, empathy, truth, love and faith.

    If you post something, especially for consumption by others, and you can’t put your name to it, then there is no credibility in the post. On this site, almost everyone uses their name or at least a name, LOL. I’ve always thought if you can’t use your name to express your opinion, then your opinion is useless!

    I really really really really really believe that there are some very turbulent and fearful times coming, and in the grand scheme of things, fairly soon. Just like a pressure cooker, it’s been simmering for a long time, but if the relief valve fails, BOOM! Right now, the relief valve is stuck. And I don’t believe there is much time left to fix it. The Constitution as it’s been interpreted and what it attempts to convey, is going to be turned on its head. The rotation has been beginning for a while with the erosion of First Amendment rights and the worship of an overly weighted Second Amendment.

    Soon, it will not be the movie Avatar or the dueling Will Smith’s, or James Dean, or even state actors with an agenda, it will be as the Donald said 3 years ago, some clown sitting on his futon in his mother’s basement cranking out videos, then multiply that by, well, who knows, and alternate reality will be the reality. Then look for the only force man controls, (military) to attempt a change. Anyway you look at it, it’s not going to be good, the horse is out of the barn, galloping at full speed down the road, with a 2 day head start, that’s a hard critter to catch.

  11. Holy Mackeral, John Sorg! No worries. jack smith and I are co-piloting a garbage scowl in a galaxy far away. We got your back, bud. May the Force be With You.

  12. The idea of manufacturing consent sounds like the “Noble Lie” or the “Magnificent Myth” of Plato and Socrates.

    Consent should not be “manufactured”. Consent should be achieved by a rational convincing thought process.

    The followers of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence are fully on board with the Noble Lie or Magnificent Myth. The GOP began their Noble Lie decades ago with “Trickle Down” economics. There is the “Magnificent Myth” that the Dow Jones Industrial Average that soars to new heights benefits all of us equally.

    The Face Book feeds I receive from my Trumpet backing friends are packed with photo shops depicting members of “The Squad” as ugly old hags, hell bent on destroying America.

    Sadly our Cable News Networks: FOX, CNN and MSDNC are all Infotainment, with actors or as they like to call themselves reporters corralling like minded individuals to follow a script like in a movie or play. There is an old saying garbage in, garbage out. The Cable News Networks can take facts and with some magician like manipulation, skew the “Out” to what they want you to hear.

  13. John Sorg @10:41 am “If you post something, especially for consumption by others, and you can’t put your name to it, then there is no credibility in the post. On this site, almost everyone uses their name or at least a name, LOL. I’ve always thought if you can’t use your name to express your opinion, then your opinion is useless!”

    You or anyone else here does not need to know my legal name. I have a rather rare ethnic last name. I do not want someone “Googling” me to find out where I live, what my phone number is, who I am related to, who my friends are on Face Book, etc.

    It is remarkable how much information can you find out about a person on the internet for free. Almost anything in the public domain is up for grabs and you can pay to find out more if that is what you decide to do.

    As Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By Any Other Name would smell as sweet.”

    So I will continue to use A nom de guerre. It is a fake name (or pseudonym) that you use for a particular task or job. By the way I take no offense in what you wrote.

  14. ML, I understand completely, I had an individual about 10 years ago engage me with information that I had not revealed. He is a well-known Trump Luddite, he ended up being a paper tiger though. I was a little more surly 10 years ago, and I told him I had racks of scissors, and therefore would have no issue using them on a paper tiger.

    I always thought that if an opinion will make someone want to come and find you, they might regret the effort. I’ve found and no BS so to speak on this site whatsoever, it’s straightforward. Mostly what I’m referring to, or what I was referring to, was all of the fake stories, the memes, the juiced up and hacked up audio and visual shenanigans. Kind of like Q-anon. Firing off in all directions, conspiracies and unsubstantiated claims by any stretch of the imagination. If he or she had any credibility whatsoever, they wouldn’t be afraid posting under their legal identifier.

    I’ve evolved over the years, when avatars were basically a symbol of your personality. Now, they’ve been downgraded to the level of crassness by a goodly amount of users.

    I meant no disrespect to you ML,

  15. LOL, Norris (Scotty) and Pete (Bones?)

    I know you’rrrre givin er al she’s got! Hopefully you’ve got enough spare Dilithium Crystals, warp 9.3 won’t do it, LOL. I nominate Larry for Mr. Spock’s role! His logic is usually unique and spot on.

  16. By the way, is Jack the guy who ends up the sacrificial lamb in almost every episode? LOL, just joking Jack.

  17. Every business regulation is determined by the behavior of business and every criminal law by the behavior of criminals.

    The move to impeach Trump comes from his behavior not Democrats.

    The move to claim unrestricted Presidential behavior comes from Republicans.

    No more blaming “others”.

  18. I recently received a solicitation for a contribution from Nikki Haley. How my name got on her mailing list, I’ll never know, but I was truly shocked. Up until very recently, I had some measure of respect for her–after all, she quit Agent Orange’s service, but her rhetoric lately has been disturbing. The document she sent was entitled “Referendum on Socialism”. She asked supporters to say NO! to the following propositions:

    1. 70% tax rates.
    2. Guaranteed income for those UNWILLING to work.
    3. Government-run healthcare which seeks the elimination of private health care.
    4. “free college” that of course isn’t free.
    5. A government attack on every building, car business or industry that relies on non-renewable sources of energy.
    6. to every aspect of the “GREEN NEW DEAL” proposed in Congress, which is nothing but a Trojan Horse for socialism and government control over every aspect of my life.

    She said this was the “destructive ideology” known as “socialism” and then added a comment that, as an Ambassador, she saw the effects of “socialism” up-close where the populace is reduced to abject poverty, which is her dire prediction if people vote for a Democrat.

    I don’t know where to start with criticizing her outright lying and distortions of truth, but the scare tactics are a bridge too far. She claims the “government” will “attack every building, car, business, and industry”, and will control “every aspect of my life”? If these comments were true, who wouldn’t be upset and want to vote against it? Just how stupid do Republicans think people are? Wait a minute: people did vote for the Dotard, so I think I know the answer. This is just an example of the open lying, not done via manipulation of video or audio, and it is chilling. Republicans are using Haley who previously had been seen as someone more reasonable and likeable than Trey Gowdy and Moscow Mitch , for example. The manipulation of video and audio Sheila describes is a huge step further.

    Republicans know that unless they change their agenda, Democrats will take over. They’ll cheat in obvious ways, like gerrymandering, voter suppression, purging the rolls (but only of likely Democrats), poll watchers and other intimidation methods. Trump tried to smear Joe Biden, but got caught. Now they have people like Haley spreading lies and fear, but the next step will be to manipulate audio and video to create fake reasons to attack opponents, and also to paint their targets as liars when they deny it. If you watch political shows and have seen focus groups you know how shockingly ignorant people are about the issues and candidates. What can reasonable people like your readers do?

  19. In law school we were required to take two semesters of Evidence, and Sheila’s effort today goes to the efficacy of what evidence we can see and hear and how such can be manipulated and, presumably, gain admissible approval. I agree that the objective of finding truth will be difficult when so much faux (formerly known as) evidence supports a finding or verdict.

    However, we cannot yield to falsity by technological means, so how about technological means to the rescue in determining what “evidence” is phony and what is not, with appropriate sanctions against parties who present faux evidence as true fact? We are told in the physical world that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and if such Newtonian observation has any teeth in the world of social science perhaps some enterprising Israelis or Silicon Valley denizens can come up with an opposite reaction against false evidence. How this might be effected is beyond my pay grade but I do recall in algebra a minus times a minus yields a plus, so let’s hope some thoughtful nerd is figuring out such a counterattack in the interest of truth in the courtroom (and the larger society).

  20. Natacha – I received something similar from Sen Todd Young. It, too, had ridiculous and exaggerated scenarios. I would quote some of the questions, however, I responded and sent it back. My response stated that the questionnaire was nothing but lies and an instrument to instill fear. I continue to be outraged and frightened by the extent to which I believe republicans will go to retain power.

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