The Humanizing Power of Deep Fakes

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In a world where the threats posed by AI seem imminent, and the deceptive power of deep fakes leave us increasingly unsettled, I feel like I’m becoming more myself.

The concerns are real: AI will eclipse facets of human intelligence and the future of many jobs will be impacted. The social challenge of deep fakes will also continue to be problematic: electorates will be confused, seniors duped, children fooled, and we’ll all be scrambling to figure out how to discern what’s true.

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While this new reality will be a challenge, it may also be an opportunity.

Would it be so bad if we lived in a world where the only people we could really trust were those who were in the same room with us?

Maybe that’s how trust is supposed to work — in proportion to physical proximity. The closer we are to others, the better our chance of discerning the truth.

Human beings are built with many communication capacities. Beyond words and listening, we communicate through facial expression, eye contact and touch. We express ourselves via emotion, body language, and tone, and sense the motives of others with our guts, feelings and intuition. We can speak volumes through silence.

Most of these relational aptitudes are face-to-face oriented — things that virtual technologies undermine. If human beings are built for full-bodied, multi-sensory communication, then no wonder this AI surge feels so unsettling. We’re not made to live in a virtual world.

What’s happening right now with AI and deep fakes is hitting this point home.

For decades, technologies have invited us to live in an increasingly virtual world, via role playing games, social media and binging entertainment and news. We live, work and love our families all on our phones! When we step into a virtual space, we leave a real space. For decades it’s been fun and seemingly life giving, but now there seems to be a catch.

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I’m not talking about Instagram’s well-documented negative effects on teen self-image, or Facebook’s relentless commodification of human relationships (our relationships have advertisements now!), but more about how the move to an increasingly virtual existence — taking relational capacities that are meant to find their fullest expression face-to-face and forcing them into worlds that throttle or limit them, leaving us feeling vulnerable and disintegrated.

Standing on the precipice of an AI world that could very much undermine the real world, I’m feeling like this moment is a wake-up call.

We’ve been giving our lives over to the self-limiting ways of virtual worlds for years, and now we’re seeing that we can’t trust these worlds. They offered so much — until they didn’t.

And now it’s all coming clear — how could anyone ever have 350 friends? The more we virtually play games, the less we play them in real life. The less able-bodied and bodily-aware we become, the more our physical capacities to communicate atrophy.

Our diverse relational aptitudes are meant to operate in concert with one another. When we separate them and use only select senses online (while leaving others physically behind), we disintegrate ourselves.

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And this can leave us less discerning — and more susceptible to deep fakes.

So maybe this AI turning point is good. Perhaps this is our chance to see that all virtual worlds and realities are deep fakes.

And why be fake when we can be real?

We’re embodied creatures, who’ve evolved to live in a physical world filled with colour, smell, texture, space and place. To best understand what’s real, we need to engage this physical world with all of our senses — face to face.

When we do — with real friends in real places — my sense is that we’ll find ourselves. We’ll know what’s real. We won’t be fooled by fake worlds because we’ll have a real one right in front of us.

John Van Sloten is a community theologian working to engage God everywhere — through science, art, work, sport, education, politics and everything else; more at .

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