Social media made this process all too easy as it became the primary news source for millions of Americans while lacking the editorial oversight of traditional media. Responding to criticism in 2017, Facebook’s chief of security, Alex Stamos, pointed out that using the blunt instrument of machine learning to eliminate fake news could turn the platform into “the Ministry of Truth with ML systems,” but by failing to act in time, Facebook was already allowing bad actors such as the Internet Research Agency to spread disinformation unchecked. The problem is likely to get worse. The growth of “deepfake” image synthesis, which combines computer graphics and artificial intelligence to manufacture images whose artificiality can only be identified by expert analysis, has the potential to create a paranoid labyrinth in which, according to the viewer’s bias, fake images will pass as real while real ones are dismissed as fake. With image synthesis, Winston’s fictional Comrade Ogilvy could be made to walk and talk while the crucial photograph of Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford could be shrugged off as a hoax. There is no technological remedy; the bug resides in human nature.
Excerpted from Dorian Lynskey’s book The Ministry of Truth, in which he argues that we have gone past George Orwell’s dystopia in 1984.