The Death of Truth?

Background for this Post:

This post is in response to the NPR Radiolab: "Breaking News" episode, which originally aired on July 27, 2017, but was re-aired this past week.  On the Radiolab episode page, there is also a sample video that illustrates the manipulation of audio/video.  At present the video tools are a bit glitchy, but that's part of the process.  Adobe seems to have left their Voco project stalled out for the moment, but now there's a company called Lyrebird looking to do something similar.  Their sample video has better visuals than sound, which is a bit of an inverse of the Radiolab sample.

The Post:

Bear with me....  Many people had mixed feelings when it came to the use of CGI/motion capture techniques in Star Wars' Rogue One film.  They resurrected the image of an actor who'd passed away in 1994, and then reconstructed a young Princess Leia as she appeared in 1977.  The results were noticeable, but not to the point of complete distraction in the film.  It took a lot of effort to do this.  But, as with all things technological, it is becoming easier.  There are several video and audio programs in beta right now that are intended to allow this type of work to occur using simpler tools.  For example, Adobe's (possibly aborted) program Voco, was claimed to be "the Photoshop of audio."  All one needed to do was take at least 20 minutes of audio, from which a voice-generated transcript would be drawn, and then a user could re-type the words so that what the speaker said would be changed.  The results were pretty astonishing.

This is where I am going to start off into a rabbit hole--a dark, Orwellian rabbit hole.  I am thinking primarily of the "Ministry of Truth" from 1984, where a swarm of employees working in isolation would actively edit news stories old and new to reflect the new developments in "the news."  Anything detrimental to The Party's ideology was to be discarded down the "memory holes" which would incinerate all evidence of the past as it had been.  The massive effort required of the society in 1984 would be staggering to maintain.  But now, with the technologies we have, this type of work has become quite elementary for an organization to effect.  Video, photos, audio, and text are now more easily forged so that it is easier to make a fake than to prove something is genuine.

Within the last two years, there have been at least ten books using Post-Truth in their titles.  I am tempted to read one of them, but to be honest, I have no idea where to start.  Truth has been a subject for debate for a very, very long time.  And what I am wondering is if the currency of truth is rapidly being debased to a point that its value as a concept is dubious.  A paradox indeed.  Truth is brutal.  Truth is liberating.  Truth can be malicious.  It is a shield, a foundation, and a locus of control.  It is a commodity in society upon which notions of justice can proceed.

I've been thinking on this since I heard the Radiolab program mentioned at the beginning of this post.  And what I've been coming around to, is a question of how truth will serve us when we are using produced virtual reality as a means to teach facts.  Or when, as we are already doing in society, we isolate ourselves from the things we find uncomfortable.  Think of facebook and twitter echo chambers.  If there is no way for the "real" world to inconvenience us with its truths, then what is the value of those truths?  To go full Orwell, or perhaps this is more Huxley, isn't that fine with an authoritarian power structure?  Distracting ourselves so deeply that the world outside is white noise, and anything that intrudes upon our predilections is seen as a threat and thus malicious and untrue?  The capitalist sees the upkeep of these virtual realities as a new form of real estate.  The politician sees the compliance as a currency to be won or lost in gaining power and influence.  The individual may very well find themselves living in an uncomplicated world that mirrors their character--a sort of self-imposed/constructed utopia.  However, if one is to consider More's initial work that coins the term--a utopia is not a good place.  If it were, it would be spelled eutopia as in euphoria.  Rather, the way More takes it on, utopia, means "no place" as in, it doesn't exist.  When the option of a utopia is available versus the difficulties of a real world existence, what else is truth, but inconvenient?

To bring this to a close, and to loop back to the topic of how this figures into education, it makes me wonder if those skills taught in the sciences and humanities of tracing things back to their source are going to end up being built up in the curriculum, or if they are going to take a back seat to the work of constructing the new reality through these burgeoning technologies and techniques.  Furthermore, especially if those skills are ramped up in the curriculum, will they be valued outside of the academy?  Perhaps they will--in a negative sense--as in, by knowing how one would verify truth, an expert can better construct a false one.  I don't know, but sometimes allowing oneself to sink into the rabbit holes of dark Orwellian thought is as jarring as any dystopian horror film.  Perhaps next week, it would be better to find something a little less grim to spend hours of thought upon.