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Minority Report Has Arrived August 19, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Machine Learning, Technology and Culture.
Tags: , , ,

It’s not quite the Tom Cruise movie where the temporal detective is himself pursued for his intent to commit a crime in the future, but it is telling nonetheless.  In this case, the Portland (OR) police department digitally altered a mug shot to remove facial tattoos from a prospective bank robber prior to showing it to witnesses who reported no such tattoos.  This ended up with an arrest and trial of that man, based partially on the doctored photo.

The technology used was not at all cutting edge (it was Photoshopped), but it was intended to make the mug shot look more like the descriptions provided by the witnesses.  It’s not clear that the police and prosecutors tried to hide this fact, but they justify it by saying the suspect could have used makeup prior to the robberies.  The public defender is, of course, challenging its admissibility, but as of now there has been no ruling on the matter.  The police also say that they have done similar adjustments to photos in other cases.  Hmmm.

This specific instance is troubling in that we expect legal evidence not to be Photoshopped, especially for the purpose of pointing the finger at a specific suspect.  The more strategic issue is how law enforcement, and society in general, will use newer technologies to craft evidence advocating or rejecting certain positions.  I don’t expect Congress or other legal body to craft (imperfect) laws regulating this until it is far too late.

I can envision a future where law, politics, and even news in general comes to rely on deep fakes as a way of influencing public opinion, votes, and society as a whole.  We certainly see enough of that today, and the use of faked videos and voices will simply make it more difficult to tell the difference between honest and made-up events.  Social media, with its inconsistent fake news rules applied inconsistently, makes matters worse.

I’m rather reminded of the old (1980s) TV show Max Headroom, in which a comatose investigative reporter lends his knowledge and personality to a lifelike AI that broadcasts in his stead.  The name comes from the last thing the reporter saw before his coma – a sign saying MAX HEADROOM 2.3M.  His head hits the sign at high speed, and becomes his AI num de guerre.

We wonder why so many people persist in believing clearly unsupported statements, and at least part of that has to do with the ability of anyone to express anything and attract a wide audience (“It’s on the Internet so it must be true!”).  Doctored words, photos, and video will eventually make nothing believable.


1. Five Blogs – 23 Augustus 2019 – 5blogs - August 23, 2019

[…] Minority Report Has Arrived Written by: Peter Varhol […]

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