As the technological realm becomes more pervasive, whom can we trust? Each week, Liberty Nation brings new insight into the fraudulent use of personal data, breaches of privacy, and attempts to filter our perception.
Digital Evolution: Your Body Is a Prison
In March, LN reported that Mark Zuckerberg was beginning to make overtures toward “mind reading” technology. The Facebook CEO was excited about a future of technology that could directly interface with the brain instead of users having to go through the clunky and inconvenient physical reality of needing to actually use their hands to type messages into a computer. “We’re working on a system that will let you type straight from your brain about 5x faster than you can type on your phone today,” he said at the time.
Progress is being made toward this end, as Facebook recently announced that it would be buying CTRL-Labs, a company that is working on such mind-reading technology. The “neural interface” company will join Facebook Reality Labs, which has already released a series of Oculus virtual reality equipment, and is currently working on augmented reality glasses that “will merge the physical and digital worlds.”
According to Thomas Reardon, the CEO of CTRL-Labs, the company was founded due to the “problem” that humans are capable of taking in larger amounts of information that they can output – action requires inefficient muscular movements and so on. The company’s product is CTRL-kit, a wristband that captures your nerve impulses and transmits them to your smartphone or other devices, allowing users to control technology through “intention capture,” using the brain’s electrical impulses to directly control technology, without physical activity.
Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s vice president of augmented and virtual reality, posted on the social media platform: “We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them. The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement.”
“It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to,” he said. “Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th century inventions in a 21st century world.”
Both Reardon and Bosworth have been at pains to emphasize how empowering this technology will be, finally giving you power over your devices. Finally, as Reardon put it at Slush entrepreneurial conference in 2018, you can stop being “victimized by your muscles.”
Facebook’s First Class Rules
If you suspected that politicians were members of an elite class that is granted its own set of rules, Facebook may be just about to prove you right. According to the social media platform’s vice president of global affairs and communications, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s fact-checking program will not apply to politicians. “From now on we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard,” Clegg declared.
The rule won’t apply to paid-for advertising or content that may “lead to real world violence and harm,” and if a politician shares previously “debunked” information, it will be demoted. It’s not entirely clear how speech resulting in violence would be measured, but Reuters reports that the policy applies to politicians at the executive, national and regional levels across the globe, including candidates for office as well as elected officials.
The platform has been cracking down on misinformation to prevent election tampering, and freeing up politicians’ speech is apparently part of this effort. “We don’t believe … that it’s an appropriate role for us to referee political debates and prevent a politician’s speech from reaching its audience and being subject to public debate and scrutiny,” Clegg wrote in a blog article. He also stated during the Sept. 24 Washington, DC announcement that:
“I know some people will say we should go further. That we are wrong to allow politicians to use our platform to say nasty things or make false claims. But imagine the reverse.
Would it be acceptable to society at large to have a private company in effect become a self-appointed referee for everything that politicians say? I don’t believe it would be. In open democracies, voters rightly believe that, as a general rule, they should be able to judge what politicians say themselves.“
Perhaps Clegg, himself a former politician in the UK, is right in saying that speech of the political class shouldn’t be restricted – if only the same luxury were afforded to the rest of us. Apparently, members of the public aren’t “newsworthy” enough.
Highly Sophisticated Fakery
Reporters around the world recently shuddered at witnessing a “creepy” deepfake video presented at MIT’s EmTech conference. MIT Technology Review editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield “interviewed” an imitation Vladimir Putin in real-time video.
— MIT Technology Review (@techreview) September 18, 2019
While this deepfake (false content produced with artificial intelligence)technology is evidently developing at a rapid pace, causing many to wonder if they will soon be able to trust their own eyes, it turns out there is still a place at the table for good ole fashioned Photoshop.
Who needs sophisticated AI technology to try to fool the public? Not Canada’s Green Party, which is in hot water for digitally manipulating a photo of leader Elizabeth May to make her appear more eco-conscious than she actually is. May was photographed in 2018 holding a single-use coffee cup at a street foodmarket (obviously we all love street food, but surely everyone knows those events are a pit of disposable packaging). The photo later appeared on the Green Party website with the drinking vessel transformed into a reusable cup displaying the party logo, plus metal straw.
“Honest. Ethical. Caring.” So says the party’s 2019 platform – well, it might be one of those things. The party is campaigning on a range of environmental issues, including the banning of non-essential single-use plastics by January 2022, and “reusable and refillable packaging targets for supermarkets and other food stores” in the same year.
“I was completely shocked to find that the party had photoshopped an image of me from last year’s Sidney Street Market,” May said in a personal statement, in which she claims the original cup was compostable. “I walk the talk every day. I hope that despite this misstep by well-meaning party staff (who hoped to brand the image with our logo), people can believe that in the original photo there is nothing I would have hidden.”
Some have called the images hypocritical, but perhaps the more concerning aspect – after all, not even the most die-hard environmentalist can always be perfect – is a political party’s free and easy attitude toward manipulating the truth. In a less controversial yet amusing episode in January, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party was caught doing a shoddy Photoshop job in order to make the PM’s sneakers appear sparkly white. Who knows, maybe Justin Trudeau will shortly come out with the same excuse to explain those recent, unfortunate, photos of his.
That’s all for this week from You’re Not Alone. Check back in next Monday to find out what’s happening in the digital realm and how it impacts you.
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