Post-authenticity society

I'm only 3 books into the series, but The Culture by Iain M. Banks is one of the best pieces of sci-fi I recently read. 30 years ago Mr. Banks in one of the books made a casual remark about authenticity in a society where any kind of proof can be faked with technology. Keep in mind that his vision is one of the most optimistic scenarios for technological advancement where artificial intelligence coexists with mere humans in an utopian society.

(...) Anybody could make up anything they wanted; sound, moving pictures, smell, touch . . . there were machines that did just that. You could order them from a store and effectively paint whatever pictures-still or moving-you wanted, and with sufficient time and patience you could make it look as realistic as the real thing, recorded with an ordinary camera. You could simply make up any film sequence you wanted.

Some people used such machines just for fun or revenge, making up stories where appalling or just funny things happened to their enemies or their friends. Where nothing could be authenticated, blackmail became both pointless and impossible; in a society like the Culture, where next to nothing was forbidden, and both money and individual power had virtually ceased to exist, it was doubly irrelevant.

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

The funny thing is, we are kind of getting there.

You have most likely heard about 'deep fakes' before. The term blew up in the news when everyone started using machine learning to substitute faces in videos. Political satire, revenge pornography, and Nicolas Cage as the main character of every movie - humans applying artificial intelligence any new technology at its finest.

At the same time, there are startups that aim to perfect voice imitation. Lyrebird lets you create a model of your own voice. They made the news with fake samples for Trump, Clinton, and Obama early last year. Their demo is already taken down, but you can hear the samples on a TechCrunch article. Far from perfect, but a significant step.

Sample of photo censure

It was always possible to alter images, as the classic example above proves. Photoshop just made it much more accessible. The same with videos - with enough resources you can fake any kind of evidence.

We are however far from an utopia where money and power do not matter, like the society of Culture in Bank's fiction. So what can we trust today? And who can we trust tomorrow?

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