With AI Nobody Knows You’re A Dog
In 1993, Peter Steiner published a cartoon in The New Yorker with the caption, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” It grew to be an internet meme and captured many of the benefits – and drawbacks – of internet anonymity.
The benefits include internet businesses not being capable of discriminating against individuals the same way brick-and-mortar might. There can be more freedom to express diverging opinions. And, of course, faster, more-transactional interactions.
The downsides, of course, are becoming more apparent every day: the rise of fake news, disinformation, and the ability for people to say things they really ought not to say, with impunity.
Prepare yourself now for internet anonymity to take a vast leap forward, thanks to artificial intelligence. Soon each of us will be capable of taking on a synthetic persona that acts on our behalf in virtual worlds of commerce, socialization, and even civic participation. It’s a difference of degree, but it’s such a big leap that it could end up representing entirely new realms of endeavors.
Take one example; each of us has a semi-anonymous handle, thanks to email. Soon, thanks to emerging AI, you will have an anonymous visage – a different face with which to communicate. I’ll be able to impersonate you (or perhaps someone famous), all while leaving behind my appearance entirely.
The technology is already here. Chip giant Nvidia, which is dominating more and more AI applications, recently announced a cloud-based video streaming platform called Nvidia Maxine. Instead of transferring a video of someone’s likeness over the wire, Nvidia simply transfers a computer model of a face along with a small packet of key facial points. As you move and speak, the AI uses the packet of facial points to animate the face model – much like the strings of a marionette.
This is part of a broader trend in what is called generative AI, and the particularly popular approach using Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs). As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, most AI is about making a decision: a computation of an expected outcome based on probabilities. Generative AI is also about making decisions, but it hinges more on predicting likely outcomes of something new — a new face, a simulated face, etc.
There are good and bad things that will come out of the sort of generative AI that Nvidia is showing us, much like the arrival of internet anonymity. If someone is worried about being discriminated against, they can appear as someone else in virtual interactions or job interviews, and avoid such discrimination, which is good. One can imagine a dating app where people first meet via their virtual personas, allowing them to focus more on relating via ideas and personality (versus their likenesses).
On the downside, misinformation will be amplified to a new degree. Deepfakes, which refer to the ability to manipulate videos to make it appear that someone is saying something they never said, have been in the public consciousness for a while. With a technology such as Maxine widely accessible to all, this phenomenon can reach a whole new level. A person could take on the persona of another race to incite racial strife, for example.
Why is this important? We need to be prepared for this new set of possibilities, both good and bad. There will certainly be commercial opportunities that arise. You can imagine a security company that detects if a person is real or not more effectively than your average computer system or person could. But the deeper implications of a world where many people live inside a visage is something we have yet to fully grasp.
This article originally appeared on forbes.com To read the full article and see the images, click here.
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