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Sunday Colloquy: We're All Deepfakes Now

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Zelensky, the deepfake
Zelensky, the deepfake
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Sunday Colloquy: We're All Deepfakes Now

by John Kendall Hawkins

Speak for yourself, you might say. Funny in itself. If only I could share that insider joke with you, I would. But that is the subject of this week's colloquy: The Inside. Does it exist any more -- or have we been eroded over time, scalloped, enshallowed, husked, thrown into a White Hole of excess information where we die a dimmer switch death, fade slowly to nothing? I'll keep it brief. It's bad news, why go on and on?

Not long ago, I reviewed the war planner Daniel Ellsberg's latest book, The Doomsday Machine (2017). It reveals a lot of horrific near catastrophes the US was involved in without its citizens knowing about them, because they were never adequately reported to the public by the media. Ellsberg's major "evil" role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. The under-reported missile crisis at the Iranian border a decade later that was even worse than Cuba! The chucklesome bets taken by scientists on whether their H-bomb test would blow up the world or not. Ellsberg telling the reader that his viewing of Dr. Strangelove came at him like a documentary. The clear plan for the US to rule the world by force, to take out China with Russia. But I'm not here before you today to reiterate those terrifying revelations. My review of the book is here.

No, this is more personal than that. Ellsberg's Doomsday recalled another book I'd read in my late twenties whose truth struck me to the core with its resonances. It felt as if an emotional bomb had dropped on ground zero, my heart. The name of that book was Dibs: In Search of Self. Dibs was an autistic kid from a well-off, well-educated family who withdrew into an isolation that few could reach him in. Play therapy was brought in to sculpt him out of his bubble. The notes the child psychologist took during these play sessions is what comprises the book. Two questions were raised to save the gifted Dibs: Why is he autistic and how do we get him out? The title tells us what the therapist thinks is the occupation of his child mind -- he's in search of a self -- and that play may be his ticket out of the bubble.

Ellsberg and Dibs came to me recently while watching the Ryan Reynolds go-go vehicle (and Dwayne Johnson''s hearse), Red Notice, with my family. There's a scene where deepfake technology is employed to 'crack' a safe full of a gunrunning evildoer's secret cache of cultural artifacts (that only he understands the true value of, because like the Stones's Lucifer, he's "a man of wealth and taste"). The deepfake app allows you to take the image of someone else and lay it over your own so that you are mistaken for a gunrunner (in this case) needing to touch his fammy jools one more time. But in this movie at least, the zappy magic didn't seem that much more sophisticated than a Mission: Impossible episode I watched as a kid in the 60s -- even then the disavowed spooks were always up to something while the world slept.

Deepfakes have been in the news again lately. The oft-reliable Yahoo News was reporting:

A deepfake video shared on Twitter, appearing to show Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring peace, has resurfaced"Meanwhile, this week Meta and YouTube have taken down a deepfake video of Ukraine's president talking of surrendering to Russia.

Suddenly, it's a craze again. Feel Good is back. You know now next time at Outbacks you'll go Surf and Turf. It's Halloween and the unaccompanied kids are dressed like Jon Benet again. (Nabakov's Lolita had a field day with American hypocrisy.) Trick or treat?

Deepfakes are everywhere. Even Joe Biden has been caught with his pants down, so to speak, in a deepfake insertion of his already creepy mug (like botox beat the sh*t out of him) and he lived a bubble world of his own where he pulled kids through their smart TVs, Alexa, the adult always in the room, calling the cops, and he white rabbited on to little girls about little things. "Piece of candy? Go for a ride." Check out this YouTube circulation that could be a wet dream from QAnon Productions:

QAnon, a name which already sounds like a circular-seat, 10-step program for recovering pedos, has gone from "seeing" molested kids trapped in pizza shop cubby holes, to threatening to blow up a Butterfly Sanctuary in Texas in search of 'first dibs' kids, may now be into deepfake technology that acts out their fantasies and recalls my teenage reads of Antonin Artaud. Didn't it go?: "The little celestial poet / opens the shutters / of his hairy little heart." I forget the rest. Don't worry, he was in a French asylum. Artaud once played Marat in the bathtub bleeding. Dead actually. More deep fakery. Including the Revolution (IMHO). But what was with using the royals's heads as bocce balls? Go ask Alice, when she's 10 feet tall.

Deepfakes have been around for a while now. The first heavy dose we got of an awareness of their presence among us was in the message movie, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where everybody is deked and deepfaked until at last there's just one Lefty left and Donald Sutherland goes all Judas on her ass. Probably the craze began in earnest with the rise of Barry Obama, who Black Agenda Report once described as "the more effective evil." And for Obama, it went even deeper, folks whispering that he shouldn't be president because he wasn't born in the USA, and so he was a criminal and he should be locked away. Jesus, where did Obama ever get the notion that there was Hope for this lot? Audacity? I'm thinking maybe it was magic mushrooms. Obama got so flustered by the birther conspiracists, led by DJ Trump, that he posted his birth certificate to the White House web server, where the painful reality hit home with its truth: Barry's mom was a white girl. Boy, did Barry have posting that.

Well, anyway, the deepfake political videos began, it seems, in earnest with the Obama administration. There were a couple of things where he was caught out saying words he never said. Back in April 2018, there was a big stink in that august paper of record, The Daily Mail. The headline hollered:

Viral clip that appears to show Obama calling President Trump 'total and complete dips***' and warning about a 'f****d up dystopia' highlights growing concerns over 'deepfakes' videos

2018. He may not have actually said in public, but you can believe it was part of his choice-word repertoire in the Oval Office. He might have said something like this :

Jordan Peele produced the deepfake of Obama, and that's appropriate, as he wrote and directed the political horror film that sees Blacks colonized in the most intrusive way possible (no spoilers). It's also appropriate to pick on Obama, as he turns out to be a "double-stuffed" Oreo, who bailed out the banks with TARP, and, some conspirators whisper, may have even worked a quid pro quo with GW -- TARP for giving Obama the bin Laden capture to ensure his re-election. Barry today gets $400,000 a pop delivering hopey-dopey speeches to Wall Streeters.

Obama appearances in deepfakes continued, showing up in the hit cult TV series Mr. Robot. The series, seemingly a continuation of the 9/11-like event that the film Fight Club ends with. Mr. Robot is, on-the-surface, about hacktivists fighting back against The Man, destroying and holding for ransom, the economic infrastructure of Deep State players and their oligarchic friends. In one scene, the series producers insert Obama giving a speech -- that he never gave in reality. In the cameo,

We see [Obama] on television, explicitly addressing the events of the 5/9 hack-pocalypse in which E Corp's data got royally screwed-up, sending the economy into freefall. "The FBI announced today, and we can confirm, that Tyrell Wellick and fsociety engaged in this attack," the leader of the free world intones while we watch him speak in a news conference.

You could almost imagine Tyrick Wellick's name being replaced with Julian Assange's, who, according to one Australian biographer, Andrew Fowler, who writes in his book, The Most Dangerous Man in the World, was a one-man "pearl harbor" for the American military and intelligence community. It ain't good to be called Pearl Harbor by spooks.

Deepfakes as a tool or app has come back so strongly that it's worthwhile looking into its origins, processes, and uses in more detail. A good place to read and consider such information is at MIT. The MIT Review articles should be regular reading for tech followers. But here in a 2020 piece from the their Sloan Center, we get a definition and some examples of how it's been used,

A deepfake refers to a specific kind of synthetic media where a person in an image or video is swapped with another person's likeness...The term "deepfake" was first coined in late 2017 by a Reddit user of the same name. This user created a space on the online news and aggregation site, where they shared pornographic videos that used open source face-swapping technology.

The latter has become its own sub-fad, and who knows but that it might have been a swapping goodie that could have kept Edward Snowden working for the NSA, with a benefit that nobody else had, like he had with his colleagues in the LOVEINT program where the NSA boys stalked their love interests online and on phone, and other stuff.

The Sloan piece provides excellent example of its use:

"deepfakes can be a voice that sounds like your boss on the other end of a phone line, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in an edited video touting how great it is to have billions of people's data, or Belgium's prime minister linking the coronavirus pandemic to climate change during a manipulated recorded speech.

Deepfakes work, they tell us, because many people already suspect this stuff. Deepfakes play into fears, paranoias, and wishful-thinking. My favorite Sloan example is the one they offer up with Mr. Deepfake himself, Richard Nixon. His resignation speech becomes a moon-landing fess up that it was a disaster. Check it out:

A lot of people believe this stuff, and the piece indicates some people bought that Nixon actually said it but that it was kept from the public. (Here's the full deepfake set up including Apollo images.) Many people believe that film director Stanley Kubrick staged the moon landing for NASA. The theorists made a movie about it -- to prove it that it was a deepfake backlot set.

I've got a theory off my own. Our brains are changing. We are becoming overwhelmed with electronic stimuli. I know people who are on the Internet all day, browsing, streaming, social media clickety-clacking god-urgent messages to each other, driven on and on by algorithms and timeline pastings that get scrolled through and, on Meta, videos begin as you scroll down in a continuous feed. These feeds and on/off energy spikes to our brains are clearly dangerous to our mental health. There are so many people who carefully choose an avatar and then adopt a persona-lity whose purpose seems to be a relief valve for their roiling aggression.

Some of the founders and engineers and management of the social media are already aware and terrified about how ordinary people are becoming hooked (as to Oxycontin) on the Internet, needing it, wanting it, aching for it. The 2020 film The Social Dilemma does a decent job of having design insiders expressing the dystopian dangers of how social media are shaping thoughts themselves, and wring their hands over the apparent inevitability of a structure that folks have to log into to complete the ordinary transactions of their lives, exposing them to shaping. Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google, sums the Question we face succinctly:

Google is in the thick of the deepfake future. What's bad now will only get worse with the new technologies emerging -- 6G and quantum computing (Google is a pioneer and so currently in control of the narrative) -- and has not strayed away from its original mantra of Do No Evil as discovered in its corporate journey that we are, as Nietzsche said at the turn of the 20th century, Beyond Good and Evil. What does do no evil mean in the postmodern world?

A couple of years ago I did a review of the British philosopher Philip Goff's Galileo's Error (2020). One concept he discusses in the book is Integrated Information Theory (IIT). It's important to Goff's later arguments that make the case for panpsychism -- a kind of Spinozan pantheism, without the theism; instead of God imbued in everything think that consciousness is. It's a tough concept made tougher by the fact that we consider such consciousness as a concept through a human lens and Goff's extension to the world of things requires some accommodation and suspension of disbelief. Like Einstein's theory of relativity, It's generally agreed these days that consciousness is the "tool" humans have that makes them special in the animal world -- providing higher thinking and allowing for the negotiation of reality with other humans. IIT tries to explain how things become conscious.

But for our purposes here, IIT may be that thing that Tristan Harris describes, but re-oriented in such a way that we are already in the new paradigm where we will be sharing the space of consciousness with the machines (AI) we are creating; the Singularity is not in the future, but now. The Internet plays a huge role in the merge we are in, The danger is that we may lose the "self'" we are accustomed to believing in the "old" paradigm and must now consider the possibility that from now on it is a shared space. As Goff puts is:

IIT predicts that if the growth of internet-based connectivity ever resulted in the amount of integrated information in society surpassing the amount of integrated information in a human brain, then not only would society become conscious but human brains would be "absorbed" into that higher form of consciousness. Brains would cease to be conscious in their own right and would instead become mere cogs in the mega-conscious entity that is the society including its internet based connectivity.

We seem to be becoming a phenomenological equivalent to young Dibses in search of self -- now almost autistic in our understanding of the new world at the cusp of our being alive. There's an aspect to humanity emerging that is bubble-boyed off, our own personal Lalaland others can't touch and we can't explain. We're all deepfakes in this scenario, which is to say we are becoming shallow realities. Maybe it's another byproduct of postmodernism's relativizing quality.

Nietzsche wrote in Beyond Good and Evil, "A man's maturity -- consists in having found again the seriousness one had as a child, at play." This is so true, it seems to me in old age. I recall watching my children, especially Freddie who seemed in his own world, though never autistic, erecting elaborate and unusual schema with blocks and rails that startled with their unexpressed purpose. The kid knew what he was doing, even though I didn't and felt locked out of his world. These days, though you wouldn't know it from my output, all I want to do is withdraw from the world of men and machines and its noises and bright lights and be at play somewhere beyond time or the games people play.

Wouldn't you?

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelance journalist and poet currently residing in Oceania.

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