Milli Vanilli was a famous, two-man signing act in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their fame turned to infamy when the two performers confessed that they didn’t actually sing any of the vocals heard on their records and lip-synced their live performances. They sang, they danced, they moved their mouths–but they didn’t really sing the songs we heard.
Twenty years ago, that deception was big news. The American public was shocked that any “performers” would dare to execute such a fraud. And some Americans were amazed that that audio technology would allow such fraud.
Today, the audio technology that allowed Milli Vanilli to deceive America seems as old news as Photoshop. Who’s surprised that digitized audio files or 2-dimensional images can be can be edited or used to deceive? Virtually no one. Fifth graders aren’t surprised or impressed by such technology.
But, who among us imagines that current video technology not only allows the manipulation of digitized, moving video images in order to completely falsify the words seemingly spoken by the subject of the video–but also allows that manipulation to take place in real time?
It’s now possible for digital editors (ventriloquists, of sorts) to put words in your digitized mouth–as you speak. Thanks to digital tech, a speaker can be reduced to the status of a digital Charley McCarthy while the ventriloquist puts digitized words in his mouth.
Implication: You can’t trust video recordings of people talking. If you don’t see someone speaking with your own eyes and hear them with your own ears, you can’t be sure that any digitized image and sound is an honest representation of whatever was really done or said.
I suspect that, in retrospect, this new video tech will be viewed a culture-changing moment. Almost all of our information comes to us as digitized images and digitized sound. If we can’t trust those digitized images and sound that fill the internet, how will we learn? What source of information can we rely on? Books? Only our own eyes/ears? Who will we trust, if we can’t rely on the talking heads on TV and the internet?
If the era of automatic trust is just about over, how will a distrustful society hold together?
I suspect that, over the next 5 to 20 years, much of America’s energy will be spent trying to discover what’s real, what’s fraudulent, how to verify the information we’ve encountered and learning who can we trust.
Our trust in news reporting has been falling for some time. Even so, we’ve still mostly taken it for granted that we can trust our news images. That presumption is now dying.
How long before we have a President who doesn’t need a teleprompter to find the words the public wants to hear but instead relies on a digitized “ghost speaker” to say those words and make the President appear to say them? In fact, how long before we elect a President who doesn’t actually exist, except as an idealized digital image? (For that matter, has anyone ever actually seen Obama?)