The European Union has demanded that online content faked by AI needs to be labeled as part of its fight against “AI generated disinformation.”
Hell yeah. I want my lies and half-truths produced by real people. Hand-crafted disinformation. With hands.
Technology has been misleading us for a long time.
Story length and placement in newspapers was dictated in large part by the technologies of printing and distribution. Headlines were conceived as analog clickbait, often with a tenuous connection to the truth.
Radio allowed broadcasters to fake baseball sounds as they narrated games they were reading about on a telegraph tape. It let Orson Wells recreate all of the sounds of an on-the-spot radio newscast describing a Martian invasion. The uncontrolled laughter on comedy shows wasn’t real.
Television (and video more broadly) has always been a “funnel” technology, showing us what’s within the frame its cameras can capture, and nothing else. We might see a crowd gathered right in front of a stage in an otherwise empty venue. A snippet of an angry encounter between two people will lack the context of what immediately preceded it or followed.
Visuals are immediate but they are incomplete, which often leads to misunderstanding. It turns out a picture requires a thousand words versus replacing them.
Computers have been delivering fantasies to us for decades.
Spoiler Alert: Leo wasn’t really standing on the deck of the Titanic and the planet Pandora doesn’t exist. Most pop stars can’t sing with perfect pitch, and Internet influencers don’t have sparkly eyes and perfect skin.
It’s all fake, at least somewhat, thanks to the creative and corrective tools of technology.
The EU isn’t talking about labelling all of these computer-generated falsehoods, of course, so its actions beg the question of what are they really trying to fix?
Because compared to the misinformation produced by technology or AI in particular, we human beings put it to shame.
Very little of what we hear from politicians is wholly true. There’s always a spin or selective omission. Businesses report what they’re required to disclose to regulators while conveniently staying mum on what’s not, or claim to be saving the planet from [insert global catastrophe here].
Brand marketers make promises that beer or makeup will make us attractive and reduce the flow of time.
Where’s the labelling for all of this misinformation?
Sadly, it’s not necessary because any reasonable consumer of media already assumes that everything we hear or see is not entirely true.
Faked content is just another form of false content, and we already bathe in the latter.
Deep fakes of President Biden joining the Shining Path or Paul and Ringo reuniting with dead bandmates for a new album would be no worse or convincing than what is already searchable online.
Are we more uncomfortable with AI producing it than humans?
There’s another insight into the EU’s thinking: a government task force has also decided that customer service chatbots must be clearly identified as AI.
Why? How many of us have interacted with human beings who acted just like robots?
Will the EU require them to behave differently? What if the chatbot can act with more empathy and operational latitude than some minimum-wage human gig worker?
Labelling something as originating from “AI” is kinda insisting on making a distinction without a difference. And it’s not even entirely true, since there’s likely a human being (with an agenda) behind the content.
We should be thankful that the EU even cares about trying to regulate AI, especially since its developers have outsourced responsibility for keeping us safe from the existential risk of their creation to, well, anybody other than themselves.
The US Congress is grossly uninformed on the topic, though its rumored that it will soon introduce its initial thinking on regulating laserdiscs.
But the real threat of AI is how it is changing business, culture, and us.
How about a label that reveals how many human beings were put out of work by AI? Here’s product X that comes with so-and-so number of people rendered obsolete. Where’s the financial reporting disclosure on that impact?
Why not insist on disclosure of energy use of AI, so we could decide if we wanted to buy something that required an extra ton of carbon to get spewed into the atmosphere instead of simply buying a human coder a lunch now and then?
Where’s the testing affirmation of mission-critical AI? Robots already do most of the work flying airplanes but only after intensive training and testing (and they still fail, as evidenced by the MCAS automation that ceased a few Boeing 737 MAXs).
How are governments certifying the safety of AI inserted into cars or our homes? What about ensuring that they’re not biased when assessing health care claims, deciding college admissions, or auditing tax returns?
Again, we’re used to people doing this work imperfectly, but maybe the point should be to figure out how to make AI an improvement in the Status Quo?
And where’s the massive, world-wide, shockingly deep and responsible research on how AI will impact our senses of personal identity and well-being? We’re only now seeing the effects of what social media has/is doing to us, and most of it isn’t good (or reversible, but technologists have outsourced responsibility for dealing with that consequence to parents).
There’s so much that governments could do to better frame and oversee what’s happening, but trying to catch deep fakes or forcing AI to reveal itself should be pretty low on the list.
The Internet is already filled with crap and lies.