Synthetic media has encapsulated our everyday lives in a multitude of ways. The pace of the digital revolution has increased exponentially over the past few years leaving us to consider in the age of information and media overload, what comes next?
With social media dominating the way we interact with the world, we can now choose our own curated reality to exist within, scary stuff, right? And as the latest trend platforms like Dall -E 2 and Midjourney are enabling everyone to create photos and illustrations, where it’s hard to tell, if they’re fake or not. Fascinating at first glance, but a potential trust-killer in the long run!
Synthetic media is everywhere
Synthetic media is an umbrella term that houses technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, AI-generated photos, deepfakes, etc.
Perhaps you’ve heard about platforms like Dall -E 2 and Midjourney, which may seem fun and innocent on the surface, but pose a real danger to trust between human beings in the future.
Think you haven’t fallen victim to the influence of synthetic media? Think again. A very familiar form of synthetic media is Instagram filters, which often alter an individual’s appearance allowing them to share a modified version of themselves with their followers.
Also, if you’ve ever seen a film that features your favorite actor suddenly appearing 20 years younger, that’s synthetic media too. Deepfakes (hyper-realistic videos, images, or audio with fake elements generated with deep learning technology), fake news, and AI-generated content use us as their host as they permeate our everyday lives, often without us realizing it.
Messing with reality
With a constant stream of information being fed to us 24/7 via social media platforms, synthetic media has completely altered our perception of reality.
We now have the capability to curate how we see the world through the news and other media outlets that we choose to engage with.
This makes for the perfect atmosphere for the spread of disinformation using synthetic media. In fact, one study found that disinformation spreads six times faster than factual media.
This is extremely alarming because it shows just how well synthetic media has integrated into our everyday lives. This leads to a division in society between those who choose to accept their curated reality as truth, and those experiencing a huge internal ethical dilemma of feeling the need to be hypercritical about everything they are reading and seeing.
Disinformation and trust
Due to the growing accessibility to the creation of disinformation, a door has been opened for actors such as criminals, hackers, and bots, to abuse synthetic media. Fake news, images, and videos can be used as propaganda by targeting audiences, using psychology against them, and preying on desires.
The sources disinformation can come from are also extensive; they can be seemingly legit sponsored content, non-existent journalists, and experts, or even fabricated everyday people. This leads to a whole lot of fear and confusion, and it is alarmingly easy to fall victim to one of these schemes, which can lead those who do to question their reality and sense of security.
The increased prevalence of this criminal activity has forced governments to quickly respond to the ever-evolving medium. Currently, there are few official laws relating to synthetic media. Authorities must now decide how the medium will be regulated and who will be responsible for keeping it in check while educating industries on the threat it carries.
Large government agencies such as the FBI now have a synthetic media unit within their cyber division which focuses on the tracking of Deepfakes and disinformation. The regulation of synthetic media also comes with the ethical dilemma of walking the fine line between control and access to free speech.
It is tricky territory to navigate because, on one hand, too much discussion about synthetic media can lead to the questioning of real, factual media. This poses an immense challenge to the ethical workings of society. People are even abusing the existence of synthetic media by claiming very real images and videos of themselves are elaborate Deepfakes. Even a certain ex-U.S. president has claimed real videos of themself to be fake.
The line between real and fake continues to blur as synthetic media becomes more convincing and easier to produce. Studies are now finding that humans are losing their ability to discern between real and fake faces, and in some instances, people are trusting AI-generated faces more than real humans.
Changing human experiences
All these alterations to reality change our expectations for ourselves and society. This is a huge threat when it comes to social structure and the way we share information with others. When confronted with this new reality where it is becoming difficult to determine what is real, humans can be left feeling confused about where to place trust, leading to huge individual and societal identity and communication problems. With synthetic media preying on our vulnerabilities, society will become increasingly guarded and dichotomized.
This threat exists at multiple scales as well, from as small as people creating idealized versions of themselves on social media to governments creating false political propaganda feeding on the fear of their citizens. Living in multiple realities with different versions of the truth is leading us on the path to where trust between humans will be completely destroyed.
About the author
Jonathan Løw is the co-founder of JumpStory. He is one of Denmark’s most well-known entrepreneurs and business authors. He has been nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year and is amongst Denmark’s 100 most promising leaders according to a major Danish business newspaper. In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, Jonathan Løw is the former Head of Marketing at the KaosPilots – named Top 10 most innovative business schools in the world by FastCompany. He is also former Startup-Advisor and Investor at Accelerace – the leading investment fund for startups in Denmark.