Three years ago, Amy Webb told the Online News Association’s annual conference that it was possible to take video footage of a person speaking and create a very believable and credible video using the same person saying something entirely different.
This ability is something news organizations now speak about all the time, usually in reference to fake news and misinformation. But no one’s doing anything to address or stop such deeply faked videos from being made, identified or stopped, Webb says.
“To me, what’s scary is not the technology, it’s our inaction to do something about the technology,” says Webb, a quantitative futurist, founder of the Future Today Institute and author of a new book, The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and Their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity. “I don’t know how many different ways to say this: If there was collaboration across the industry and news organizations on their own developed their own ways for verification, there would be other ways to combat this problem.”
Better collaboration among news organizations is something Webb says desperately needs to happen, especially in preparation for the 2020 election. If she were working in a newsroom, she would start a war room today to “map out where there is risk and opportunity in trying to cover the 2020 election. Increasingly the conversation has been wrested from the usual suspects and the usual places and are happening in new places that are damaging to the future of democracy. News organizations really need to start thinking seriously about what disinformation looks like 12 months from now, what are the distribution channels that are going to matter. I don’t see that happening.”
What she does see happening, as discussed in her book, is a centralization of artificial intelligence among three centers of power – Washington, D.C., Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
In her research with clients or on various projects over the past few years, Webb’s journalist brain kept coming back to the same question: “What happens when we consolidate tremendous power among just a few companies and just a few people who work inside these companies that will ultimately result in a technology that will be designed to make decisions for us?”
Those three cities and their power players don’t have the best relationships with each other but they will likely form the future of artificial intelligence for every aspect of our lives.
“AI is constantly talked about but always with a lot of misplaced optimism and fear. It’s a real story that we need to get to so we can prevent catastrophic outcomes I see on the horizon and start on the difficult work of making difficult choices under challenging circumstances so that we can get to better actions,” she says.