World of artifice gains strength as deepfakes, AI reign

Certainly, the misinformed world requires some official system of facts and figures, for which the world’s leaders must reach a consensus. (HT_PRINT)
Certainly, the misinformed world requires some official system of facts and figures, for which the world’s leaders must reach a consensus. (HT_PRINT)

Summary

  • Our world, which is riddled with ambiguity, is in desperate need of authenticity.

NEW DELHI : Every time a year departs, it leaves us with some questions and some answers. But 2023 seems to be an exception. This year, there were fewer answers than questions. Not unexpectedly, Merriam Webster and the Cambridge Dictionary both discovered something similar in their studies. The most searched word this year according to the Cambridge Dictionary was “hallucinate"; Merriam Webster, in turn, found “authentic" to be the most searched word of the year.

Our world, which is riddled with ambiguity, is in desperate need of authenticity.

In 2016, this tendency became widely known. That year, Oxford Dictionary found “post-truth" to be the most searched word. Those were the days of Donald Trump’s ascension to power in America. What he was saying and doing caused outrage among intellectuals around the world. Questions were being raised everywhere about how this man, who had been voted to the highest position in the globe, was behaving. The Oxford Dictionary defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief".

Lies have since maintained their attempt to smear the truth.

Needless to say, society always wishes to walk with the truth, but politicians, businesspeople, and courtiers have been entangling it in unfathomable debates. Let us quickly flip the pages of our country’s history. How big a war was required to determine if the fight between the Kauravas and Pandavas was fought on the issue of truth and lies? It is said that during that fight, every house in Aryavarta experienced a loss of life or property. Despite the best efforts of religious and philosophical figures, this trend has not been stopped.

The last two years’ events bear evidence of this. Russia began a long period of bloodshed by attacking Ukraine. Putin had effectively built the backdrop by combining historical truths and present geopolitical myths. As a result, the Russian authorities and their generals were unable to achieve their ultimate goal, but the people of both countries were forced to endure terrible misery.

The current conflict between Israel and Gaza is the next chapter in this series. In both fights, over a lakh people have been killed or injured. What if the devastation extends to other parts of the world? To put a stop to this, the current world needs to find the correct balance of truth, facts, words, and deeds. But how can this be done?

Our elected representatives are victims of delusion. Even the US president, widely regarded as the most powerful person on the planet, is not immune to this. Let me use the first two weeks of October as an example. An anonymous video purportedly depicting Hamas’s murder of 40 Israeli children went viral on social media. Without confirming authenticity of the video, US President Joe Biden said he had seen the video of children being beheaded, causing worldwide outrage. However, when officials from the president’s office checked the footage for its authenticity, they were stunned to discover that it was a fake video. Within hours of the finding, the official spokesperson clarified that neither the US president nor any other official of the country had seen images or independently corroborated the horrible massacre of children.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine could not be exploited as a weapon of sectarianism. But the conflict between Israel and Hamas can be. Various fake videos, news reports, and stories have been made during this conflict. During this time, the leaders who have espoused post-truth have succeeded in perplexing the entire world in a variety of ways.

This forced illusion has not spared India. A deepfake video of Rashmika Mandanna, a popular actor of the south Indian film industry, surprised even the central government last month. Owing to the overwhelming reaction against the deepfake, information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnav convened a hurried meeting with government officials on 23 November. Deepfakes were described as a menace to democracy, and he directed that a rigorous regulation be enacted as quickly as possible. A day earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned world leaders at the G-20 virtual summit against the misuse of AI and deepfakes.

Certainly, the misinformed world requires some official system of facts and figures, for which the world’s leaders must reach a consensus. We must not allow social media and artificial intelligence to become a curse rather than a blessing. This is also one of the year 2024’s most significant challenges.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. Views are personal.

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