In an era of fake news and technology-enabled meddling with elections, the need for information literacy, media literacy, and digital competency is greater than ever. It is now possible to record 20 minutes of a person’s voice, rearrange some text, and replay a completely different sentence that the person didn’t say with a new kind of software. While this kind of technology is not yet available to everyone, the need for critical engagement with technology should be a concern for anyone from policy makers to educators to general citizens.
In addition to the audio modification technology, labs and centers at different universities are currently investigating and improving face modeling video technologies. A research paper about a technology called Face2Face from scientists at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Max-Planck-Institute for Informatics, and Stanford University show how they can modify YouTube recordings of George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Daniel Craig and Donald Trump in real time by overlaying a second person’s facial expressions on top of the original recording. The WNYC podcast, RadioLab, explored this topic even further by investigating how detectable this kind of technology would be to experts and how concerned we should actually be. They got mixed answers from experts and decided to pursue their own investigations while trying to create a fake video of their own.
It can be tempting to disengage and be discouraged at the level of disruption that this can cause. However, we can also take this as motivation to more deeply understand the technological context around us and become more informed and skeptical at the same time. Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich, and Simon Adler took the approach to engage the technology that concerned them and came out with an informed respect and wariness while also dispelling the most paralyzing fear that there was now no way to discern the truth. We must continue to wrestle with Pandora’s box and this is another challenge for librarians and digital humanities practitioners to pursue.