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A Crisis of Trust
I’ve been struggling with the idea of trust, both in my own life (after a few setbacks and disappointments) and also in public life.
In our rapidly evolving world, trust has become a scarce and precious commodity. As we grapple with this concept, several questions surface. How can we discern the truth in an age where misinformation floods our screens? How do we know if the information we consume is complete and accurate, especially given the vastness of the internet and the ever-expanding landscape of AI-generated content?
Even if the information we come across is factual, how do we know that it’s sufficiently complete? Certainly we can and should look at multiple sources, but since we do not know how many pieces of the puzzle exist to begin with, how do we know if we’ve appropriately completed it?
The digital age has ushered in a new era where false information spreads with alarming ease. While the distortion of images and stories is not a novel concept, what sets this era apart is the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence. Generative AI can churn out articles, images, and videos at an unprecedented pace and without the requirement of skill, making it increasingly difficult for us to discern fact from fiction. Traditionally, this distortion of images required both skill and time. AI requires neither.
Generative AI can produce articles, images, and videos far quicker than any humans can refute it. And it may soon populate our entire informational banks. It has the ability to distort history, because the next time ChatGPT or its siblings update, they will be “learning” from content generated by AI. That’s a terrifying prospect.
The prospect of AI-generated content permeating our historical records is not just alarming; it is akin to a collective false memory taking root in our society.
Experts in the field express skepticism about our ability to accurately identify what's real and what's not both in the short-term, as well as in the long-term. And it will only get harder.
And that should worry us all because while some use of it will be innocent enough, there are also bad actors and government entities already using these tools to spread their messages.
This concern is not merely theoretical; it has real-world consequences. As I write this, countless images, videos, and news items are being shared about the ongoing Ukraine/Russia and Israel/Palestine conflicts. Disinformation runs rampant, sowing discord, confusion, and false narratives among millions. And AI isn’t even necessary to achieve those goals. An out of context quote here and there. An image with a misleading headline. A video depicting a situation on a different date than we’re led to believe and in another country…it’s endless. And millions of people fall for it.
It takes time and resources to verify each of these posts. It takes critical thinking to be sufficiently skeptical to do so. But, crucially, even if the correction is made…there’s the issue of the correction not being spread at the same rate as the “error.” And that’s even tougher to fix—though tools like X’s Community Notes point in the right the direction.
So how do you know what to trust? Where does it leave us?
In this era of uncertainty, some individuals and sources have managed to earn my trust. These are the voices that take the time to verify information before they post, are consistent, and have dedicated themselves to upholding the truth. Having a foundational knowledge of history and the world can also serve as a powerful tool, enabling us to discern inconsistencies in the narratives presented to us. However, the reality remains that we cannot be experts in every field.
As such, in navigating this landscape, critical thinking becomes our most valuable asset. It compels us to question, to scrutinize, and to verify. It pushes us to seek out diverse perspectives and reliable sources. Nonetheless, and I hate to leave you on such an unfortunate note, but the truth is that we are facing a crisis of trust.
We’ve already lost faith in the institutions, and it’s now becoming harder than ever trust what’s before our very own eyes.
DISCUSS: How do you decide what you can trust?
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