It’s happening right now, in a way we never thought possible…
I read the strangest article (in Swedish) in one of my regular newspapers, about pop stars, models and social media influencers that don’t exist. Think about that for a moment. There are artificially created people on Instagram and elsewhere, with photorealistic imagery that do not exist. Yet they have millions and millions of followers, some of them even publish songs. And at the same time, we have politicians all over the globe who lie more frequently than they tell the truth and accuse everybody who doesn’t agree with them to lie and label any news outlet who disagrees with them as fake news. And no, Donald Trump isn’t the only one. “Fake news” has become a thing for far too many politicians in every corner of the world. He simply “perfected” the act. Fake news is no longer about news which is incorrect, fake news is news you don’t like. What a fundamental shift in connotation, in just three years.
Fake people, fake lives, lies, and truth interchangeable, how are we as ordinary human beings going to survive this? How will we, as humanity, be able to overcome the threats to the very core of our society if we keep blurring the lines between reality and fiction, imagination and deception?
Not a new idea, or concept
I’m not the first person to think about this. And smarter people than I have been trying to show us possible outcomes for decades. Picture the Terminator and the threat of what AI could do to humanity. Or worse, The Matrix. These movies were all pre-Internet, and pre-virtual/augmented reality. I saw another flick called Player One a few months ago, which is a movie that actually does take place knowing where we are today, and it painted a bleak picture, too, albeit with a happy ending.
I’ve also read articles littered with examples of so-called “deep fakes”, of YouTube or news cast-style videos that were completely fake, with “real” people saying things they’ve never said. With our current level of technology, you can interchange Mother Teresa and Adolf Hitler, although that doesn’t really achieve much for anybody. However, what if say you could have a candidate for the 2020 Presidential campaign say something untoward? And what about someone who’s actually said something untoward being able to completely deny it? Even though the latter happens already.
It’s on the radio, it’s got to be true!
Many years ago, I was actively engaged in public access radio, which is a great way for ordinary people to express their opinions on FM-radio. More than once I encountered people who would complain about things said there, particularly if it was from someone who was from a rival political party or ethnic groups. Oddly, when I reminded them that it was our remit to transmit our own opinions, not state facts, I would often hear “but it’s on the radio!” as if the mere fact that they heard in through an FM-receiver somehow made whatever statement be the truth. I am afraid that we all suffer from that mentality, a little, and it’s enhanced when we hear it on TV, or from one of our elected officials, even though, these days, we can’t really trust anything we hear. We all have to double-check the facts.
Add to this the fact that more and more of us live our lives on social media, that people mourn the deception of so-called “friends” online, people they’ve never even met. How can anyone trust a complete stranger whose words you read on your computer screen, without the infliction of the tone of voice? Need I remind you of how quickly we descend into trolling when we think we’re alone and anonymous? It’s so easy to hurt people online, and it’s so simple to create misunderstandings when you don’t really know the person on the other end, do not understand what personality they have. Suddenly, the most innocent joke turns into the vilest of offenses and we “block” that someone, never to speak to them again. Virtually anything can create an online shitstorm. All among people who don’t know each other, not really.
Forget to like a friend’s post and you’ve begun your journey to forget them…
Then you have the algorithms of the various social media engines who ruthlessly serve you what is in their best interest, not what is in yours. Forget to like your friends umpteenth cat meme and they will slowly but surely wither away from your stream (and–sadly–your consciousness) replaced by advertisements for things you incidentally said to Alexa, Cordana or whatever other assistants you’re using or searches made or click-bait you couldn’t resist. We are manipulated online and it’s getting almost impossible to resist the allure of the almighty algorithm. Don’t believe me? Go have a look at what your interests are on Facebook, based on the site’s ad-settings on your profile. It’s not only a good idea to detox those hundreds (!) of “interests” every now and then, but some also provide a clue as to how the algorithms work and more than a handful of headshakes as to how stupid they actually are. No AI out there, yet!
Combine all of the above and you have a toxic cocktail. And as an author and creator of fiction, I wonder. Will I still be needed in the future? Will anyone still read my stories? My books? I do not know. If we start to live the fiction and use our personal lives to escape the harsh reality of this world, will fiction be there to bring us back to reality, after a long hard day in Escapia? Or will we become completely superfluous, no longer necessary since our own chosen realities surpass anything fiction could ever hope to offer? A world where every human is the main character in their own story, and we all walk through the streets with our 3D goggles on, eating at Klingon restaurants, being served by people we don’t look at, servers who think they’re serving us to the Minotaur of their own reality. Meanwhile, the puppet masters sit in their mansions enjoying the spectacle we’re making of ourselves.
Where will we be in a few years?
I don’t have the answer to any of my questions, but I worry. I wonder if humanity is equipped for the future we’re setting ourselves up for, or will we, given climate change and the potential for human conflict inherently part of it, be the end of ourselves long before we reach the full potential of that future?
What do you think? Feel free to comment and discuss.