Last month brought the introduction of GPT-3, the next frontier of generative writing: an AI that can produce shockingly human-sounding (if at times surreal) sentences. As its output becomes ever more difficult to distinguish from text produced by humans, one can imagine a future in which the vast majority of the written content we see on the internet is produced by machines. If this were to happen, how would it change the way we react to the content that surrounds us?…
Generated media, such as deepfaked video or GPT-3 output…if used maliciously, there is no unaltered original, no raw material that could be produced as a basis for comparison or evidence for a fact-check. In the early 2000s, it was easy to dissect pre-vs-post photos of celebrities and discuss whether the latter created unrealistic ideals of perfection. In 2020, we confront increasingly plausible celebrity face-swaps on porn, and clips in which world leaders say things they’ve never said before. We will have to adjust, and adapt, to a new level of unreality. Even social media platforms recognize this distinction; their deepfake moderation policies distinguish between media content that is synthetic and that which is merely “modified”.
But synthetic text—particularly of the kind that’s now being produced—presents a more challenging frontier. It will be easy to generate in high volume, and with fewer tells to enable detection. Rather than being deployed at sensitive moments in order to create a mini scandal or an October Surprise, as might be the case for synthetic video or audio, textfakes could instead be used in bulk, to stitch a blanket of pervasive lies. As anyone who has followed a heated Twitter hashtag can attest, activists and marketers alike recognize the value of dominating what’s known as “share of voice”: Seeing a lot of people express the same point of view, often at the same time or in the same place, can convince observers that everyone feels a certain way, regardless of whether the people speaking are truly representative—or even real. In psychology, this is called the majority illusion. As the time and effort required to produce commentary drops, it will be possible to produce vast quantities of AI-generated content on any topic imaginable. Indeed, it’s possible that we’ll soon have algorithms reading the web, forming “opinions,” and then publishing their own responses. This boundless corpus of new content and comments, largely manufactured by machines, might then be processed by other machines, leading to a feedback loop that would significantly alter our information ecosystem.
And another chapter in the endless rewrite of “BRAVE NEW WORLD” drops into view.