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Google VP Warns All Memory of 21st Century May Be Lost
We could lose the ability to interpret digital data as software progresses and leaves old ways of coding data behind.
Vint Cerf, a vice president at Google and one of the father's of the internet, warned that our collective memory of the 21st century could be lost forever if digital content — from spreadsheets and text documents to family photos and home videos — becomes unrecognizable as a result of software's inexorable progression.
Presented at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Cerf's warning about a "digital Dark Age" seems counterintuitive. Whereas a photograph can burn and disappear forever, digital content is easily copied and can be stored in many locations with ease — in principle, digital content will exist forever. But we are not at risk of losing the data itself, according to Cerf. Rather we could lose the ability to interpret the data as software progresses and leaves old ways of coding data behind.
As programmer Clay Johnson explains in his Big Think interview, code writers now play an indispensable role in preserving human culture:
"I think it’s time for software developers to really step up and understand that their role in society is actually pretty vital. Our definition of literacy is rapidly changing. ... We have a new form of digital literacy, and 30 years from now someone saying 'I'm not a computer person' or 'I'm not a technology person' will be the equivalent of someone today saying 'I don’t know how to read.'"
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
The future of deepfakes<p>In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.</p><p>But the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=324528215059254" target="_blank">video</a> is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real. </p><p>The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/research/is-seeing-still-believing-the-deepfake-challenge-to-truth-in-politics/#cancel" target="_blank">2020 report from The Brookings Institution</a>. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes. </p><p>As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."</p>
Context is everything.
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of new behaviours into daily routines, like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hand sanitizing. Meanwhile, many old behaviours such as attending events, eating out and seeing friends have been put on hold.
A new study looks at how images of coffee's origins affect the perception of its premiumness and quality.
- Images can affect how people perceive the quality of a product.
- In a new study, researchers show using virtual reality that images of farms positively influence the subjects' experience of coffee.
- The results provide insights on the psychology and power of marketing.