Not long ago a Republican congressman posted a picture of Barak Obama shaking the hand of the Iranian head of state, a meeting that never happened. This kind of face substitution is something that is now becoming not only available but also rather easy to do. With the social media app Tik Tok and its Chinese counterpart, Douyin, both owned by the same parent company Byte Dance, Face Swap is either being thought about or being introduced, sometimes surreptitiously. Byte Dance who says Face Swap is mainly meant for Douyin also says it is meant to be used for fun, that placing a face, presumably that of the user, on another video or image could be amusing. But that means that the app would have data on the user’s face and could use it ostensibly for its own purposes, and thus, as it did with the Obama picture, be used to spread misinformation. There is another important issue, what would Byte Dance as well as the social media apps do with all the data they would collect?
It all begs a big question, how are we to know what is real? That is as far as I can see one of the biggest challenges before us, and to my mind one of the biggest danger for the future. As a culture, our propensity to put appearances first will surely keep us from questioning what we see. Our tendency to gravitate towards knowledge emanating from soundbites will reinforce that propensity, and our general need for comfort will act as a brake to go deeper and probe what we are seeing to hopefully look for the signs that will open the door to the truth—or falsity—we are looking at. Obviously, our culture is moving headlong into these new areas of technology. And perhaps if we could learn to become more aware of how quickly we can mistake the unreal for the real and untruths for facts, we could make a small step, albeit a very small one, towards the health of our future.