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The Death of Truth – And What We Can Do About It

By Shlomo Maital

Bloomberg reports that the new Chinese “face swapping” app, called Zao, already has many millions of users:

     Chinese face-swap app Zao rocketed to the top of app store charts over the weekend, but user delight at the prospect of becoming instant superstars quickly turned sour as privacy implications began to sink in.     Launched recently, Zao is currently topping the free download chart on China’s iOS store. Its popularity has also pushed another face-swap app, Yanji, to fifth place on the list. Behind Zao is a company fully owned by Chinese hookup and live-streaming service Momo Inc. President Wang Li and co-Founder Lei Xiaoliang, according to public company registration documents.

   Let’s face facts. We used to say, “I’ll believe it, when I see it.” Or: “I trust my own eyes”. Or “I saw it myself!”. Or: “Show me!”.   That meant — seeing is believing.

This is no longer the case. With Zao, you can place your own self at the prow of the Titanic, instead of Leonardo DiCaprio.

   This could be amusing. But it’s not. What it means is, you can no longer believe your eyes, or your ears, for that matter.   How does one navigate, in a world where the line between truth and falsehood is erased?

   In 2016, this lie was spread and widely believed: “ … emails about social gatherings involving “pizza,” were code for something much darker; a secret underground human trafficking/child sex abuse ring, involving senior members of the Clinton campaign.”

   Many years ago, a TIME magazine cover proclaimed, “God is Dead”. Perhaps today, there could be a cover, “Truth is Dead”. If you can’t believe your eyes or your ears… what do you do?

   I have no idea. But here is one very small insignificant suggestion. Make “critical thinking” a key part of all school and university curricula. Let each of us renew and hone our skill at thinking critically, and questioning, about everything we hear and read.

   Is this sad? Is it sad we live in a world where nothing can be taken on faith, where everything has to be questioned, no matter what the source?   And it won’t get better. As experts find ways to identify “face swaps”, those who produce such software find ways to defeat them. Why? Because there is far more money in selling face-swap apps than there is in finding ways to expose them.

     Huxley’s novel Brave New World focused on a future world, in which everyone lost their individual identity. That hasn’t happened. Today’s brave new world is one where everyone is losing the crucial value of trust and truth.

    If you have to think critically about everything, then you have to think critically about everyone. If you can’t trust anything, then you implicitly can’t trust anyone. Somehow, some smart people are going to have to find a way to deal with this. Because the very fabric of society is coming apart, as a result.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
October 2019
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