Fakery is coming. We’re not ready.

Christopher S. Penn

I’m going to share some tweets with you. I’ll tell you who wrote them in a moment.

“Today I’m announcing an important partnership that has the potential to transform America’s foreign policy – it comes from the heart!”

“I am pleased to announce our new alliance with North Korea. Kim Jong Un and I are great friends. He’s doing a fantastic job for his country. I look forward to a future of great cooperation and commerce between the United States and North Korea!”

“Just spoke with President Xi of China about North Korea. Very positive signs, and we will see what happens!”

“North Korea is behaving responsibly – no missile launches, nuclear test or other provocative actions. We have been negotiating for years!”

“…we are trying very hard. Both countries are trying very hard! @foxandfriends We are getting there. We are making great progress. Congratulations!”

“The New York Times is pushing the narrative that I called Russia the most hostile state to the U.S. We are not, and never have been. I always call Russia friend… https://t.co/bkPvVhfj6

“Japan, which is building its military, is coming back into the World Trade Organization, and they want tariffs and fees to go up on American cars and products made in Japan. I don’t need tariffs and fees because they are making them in China. Japan has been dumping its massive trade surplus (mostly Tariffs) in the U.S. They have become a very Bad Influence!”

I’m sure you had a visceral reaction. These tweets have an unmistakable Trump flavor to them. But did he really say this about North Korea?

No.

These tweets were generated by the researcher Christopher S. Penn. He created them as a demonstration. He explains how:

This is the output of an AI’s natural language generation when fed the President’s tweets for the past two years and then given a starter sentence: “I am pleased to announce our new alliance with North Korea. Kim Jong Un and I are great friends.” The software then generated thousands of tweets in just a few minutes that look and sound authentic. Not a single tweet above is legitimate or real. . . .

[T]he above examples I generated in about an hour’s time using OpenAI’s GPT-2 and the corpus of the President’s tweets. The cost of creating that content was my time only; it cost $0 in hard dollars to train GPT-2 to learn from the President’s writing because two years of tweets is a really, really small dataset.

The results above are one person, one hour, one cloud GPU computing instance, and a budget of nothing.

Christopher Penn is brilliant, but what he did here didn’t require that brilliance. Million of coders have the skill to do this; training even unsophisticated workers to do it would be easy, too.

“Mainstream media” is the only thing standing between us and the abyss

This is just the beginning. The next few years will see a flood, not just of fake tweets, but fake news reports. We’ll even see fake video. Here’s Jennifer Lawrence with Steve Buscemi’s face:

We are about to enter a world where seeing and reading is not believing.

Personally, we must each agree to question what we see and seek verification from sources that we trust.

We must teach our children to be skeptical, and to verify the truth of what they read.

To save our republic, which is about to be under attack from foreign powers and domestic troublemakers with stuff like this, we must strengthen the tools available to verify content.

Much of the responsibility for monitoring fakery will fall to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Those are the vectors that will spread the fake news. If the next election and the fate of America are determined by fakery, they will be complicit.

Our last best hope for identifying truth lies with mainstream media companies like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN. The work of their reporters in finding truth and separating it from fiction is, in the end, the only thing standing between us and chaos. Their credibility is perhaps the only remaining barrier to a world where truth is unknowable — and the tyrants who can best wield lies will win.

Attacks on press are attacks on America.

12 responses to “Fakery is coming. We’re not ready.

  1. You put yourself in peril if you pin your hopes for the truth on the Murdoch family owned Wall Street Journal. You might also consider reliable media from other countries, mainly England, Germany, and France.

  2. Everyone who cares about this should be paying for a subscription to at least one of the major newspapers to keep them in business.

  3. Many US mainstream media sources are extremely biased to the Left (CNN, NY Times, Wash Post, MSNBC) or to the Right (Fox News). So we are in a lot of trouble as neither can be counted on to provide the truth or story reporting without bias.

    1. First off, let’s distinguish between reporting and editorial. The NY Times and Wash Post editorial pages are mostly (not completely) liberal and the WSJ editorial page is mostly conservative.

      In all of these cases, and with CNN, the reporting is generally true. Truth is truth. It has no bias.

      The cable news commentary on MSNBC, Fox, and CNN is red meat intended to fuel the base of viewers. Bias inflames viewers. That’s where we are with cable “news,” but it’s about the commentary, not the news.

      1. I define fake news as news that is slanted to back the political opinion of the reporter. And that happens daily on Wash Post, NY Times and other left wing newspapers. They have lost the people’s trust.

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