Citizen Action Monitor

How do we navigate a world in which words, stories, images, and audios become increasingly suspect?

Can we break through the fakery to finally arrive at an agreement of what to do about the climate crisis that imperils us?

No 2356 Posted by fw, August 20, 2018

Kurt Cobb

“How do we anchor ourselves in a world in which neither the narratives we are told nor the images we are shown can be trusted? … since we live in an increasingly complex world in which much of the technical knowledge required to decipher our society is beyond our abilities and our available time to master … Thus, we will end up, as we often do, relying on others we trust—friends; experts we don’t necessarily know personally but respect … Given that even these sources can be duped by the vast public relations apparatuses employed by companies, governments, political parties or any wealthy organization, we may end up increasingly at sea in a world of doubtful information. In fact, we already are. … we have such a threat that we call climate change. Climate change is the most well-studied, well-documented phenomenon in history, and yet we are paralyzed as a species. … If climate change is unable to harness the human ability to cooperate in the face of an existential crisis, it is fair to ask if there is anything, anything at all, that could get the human species to unite around a well-supported narrative and move forward together toward a shared destiny.”Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights

Masking the truth

In the opening sentence to his article, Kurt Cobb writes:

“If you want to corrupt a people, corrupt the language. … Once it becomes impossible to say the truth with the language we have, it will ultimately be impossible for us to adapt and survive.”

Cobb could not have timed this statement about truth and the corruption of the language more fortuitously, coming, as it did, on the same day that Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, uttered his infamous “Truth isn’t truth” remark on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In response to a question from host Chuck Todd about the definition of truth, Giuliani replied:

“When you tell me, you know, that he should testify because he’s going to tell the truth, and he shouldn’t worry, well that’s so silly because it’s somebody’s version of the truth, not ‘the truth’.”

To which Todd responded: “Truth is truth.”

“No, it isn’t truth,” Giuliani said. “Truth isn’t truth.”

In his closing words, Cobb could not have written a more worrisome truth in the context of our climate crisis:

“… we cannot seem to find a common narrative that joins all humans and all of planetary life together in a way that would allow us to address the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.”

Below is my abridged repost of Kurt Cobb’s thought-provoking piece, including my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively he the unabridged version on his website by clicking on the following linked title.

**********

Artificial intelligence, fake images and crumbling trust in our narratives by Kurt Cobb, Resource Insights, August 19, 2018

Once it becomes impossible to say the truth with the language we have, it will ultimately be impossible for us to adapt and survive.”

In a piece I wrote in 2014 I opined, “If you want to corrupt a people, corrupt the language.” I added, “Once it becomes impossible to say the truth with the language we have, it will ultimately be impossible for us to adapt and survive.”

The oil industry created “oil Newspeak” to deceive policymakers, investors and the public

In that piece I was complaining about what I dubbed “oil Newspeak,” an Orwellian lexicon created by the oil industry to deceive policymakers, investors and the public.

And now, artificial intelligence enables the creation of images and audio recordings that seem real

Of course, back then I concerned myself only with words. But with the increasing power of artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced software which is now available to average computer users, practically anyone can alter and/or create images and audio recordings that seem real, but which are entirely concocted. It means that comedian Richard Pryor’s famous line—”Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”—may very well morph from a joke into a serious question.

Our very own words and stories are “approximations of reality” based on our subjective perceptions

Humans understand the world by narrating it. Our narratives are always approximations of reality; we cannot know objectively our reality because we are inside of it and limited in the scope and modes of our perceptions—modes that are shaped by evolution to help us survive, but not necessarily plumb the depths of the universe.

But they must be “reasonable approximations” of reality or we risk deceiving ourselves and others

Still, those narratives must be reasonable approximations of the dangers and opportunities we face or they will lead us in the wrong direction. Words can be powerful and images even more so. The power of the iconic is so great that it can easily bypass our logic and slip directly into our minds.

The power to alter images and audio can intentionally or unknowingly pose a threat to anyone

Such power to alter images and audio now threatens not only any prominent person who has been photographed, filmed or recorded, but anyone who has posted video or photos of themselves, their friends or their family on the internet.

As AI becomes more powerful, it will be harder to detect fakes

The problem is that as AI becomes more sophisticated, it will become harder and harder to detect fakes, according the MIT Technology Review article which is also linked above. And, this will inevitably lead to a presumption that all photographic, video and audio evidence of anything from murder to a wedding party is suspect.

How do we navigate a world in which words, stories, images, and audios become increasingly suspect? 

How do we anchor ourselves in a world in which neither the narratives we are told nor the images we are shown can be trusted? We can try to do the forensic work ourselves. But since we live in an increasingly complex world in which much of the technical knowledge required to decipher our society is beyond our abilities and our available time to master, the necessary forensic investigation will be all but impossible.

Whom do we trust to keep us responsibly informed?

Thus, we will end up, as we often do, relying on others we trust—friends; experts we don’t necessarily know personally but respect; religious, business and political leaders—to tell us what is authentic.

We are already adrift in a sea of doubtful information

Given that even these sources can be duped by (or part of) the vast public relations apparatuses employed by companies, governments, political parties or any wealthy organization, we may end up increasingly at sea in a world of doubtful information. In fact, we already are.

Can we break through the fakery to arrive at a shared understanding of the climate crisis that imperils us?

It seems that only a threat that supersedes narrow political, economic and sectarian interests, one that imperils our very survival could break through such a cacophony of misinformation and lead us to seek a common understanding.

For example, how do we sort out the truth about climate change when the various narratives create confusion?

Alas, we have such a threat that we call climate change. Climate change is the most well-studied, well-documented phenomenon in history, and yet we are paralyzed as a species. We are sold various narratives that include the following:

  1. Climate change is not happening.
  2. Climate change is happening but “natural” and nothing to worry about.
  3. Climate change is happening, but it will be good for us.
  4. Climate change will be solved by technology.
  5. Climate change will disrupt and bring chaos to our global civilization, possibly leading to a dark age.
  6. Climate change is something that will happen in the future so we don’t need to worry about it now.
  7. Climate change is happening now, and it is already too late to do anything about it, so why bother.

If we can’t even unite around the climate change threat, what hope is there for human survival?

If climate change is unable to harness the human ability to cooperate in the face of an existential crisis, it is fair to ask if there is anything, anything at all, that could get the human species to unite around a well-supported narrative and move forward together toward a shared destiny.

Our combined efforts so far are too small to save us from the environmental collision course we’re on

This is the central question of our age. The problems we face cannot be solved by any one individual, community or nation. There are nascent efforts at the community and provincial and state levels that are promising with regard to climate change. But these remain too small for now to alter our collision course with the warming atmosphere and oceans.

Waiting until we are forced to make lifestyle changes will come far too late to avoid the climate crisis

History teaches us that societies make dramatic change only when they are forced to. That will be far too late to avoid the worst ravages of climate change which scientists tell us would continue to get worse for the next generation and beyond even if we stopped adding any carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere today—which, of course, we are not going to stop doing anytime soon.

So far, our individual and collective narratives seem to be no match for the complex world we live in

We all love a good story. And, we humans are all storytellers by nature. It is how we cope with the world. But our storytelling skills seem to be no match for the exceedingly complex world we live in. We can narrate the small part we inhabit with some success. But we cannot seem to find a common narrative that joins all humans and all of planetary life together in a way that would allow us to address the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.

FAIR USE NOTICE – For details click here

%d bloggers like this: