The necessity of visual skepticism in the post-truth era

New research project in collaboration with Pavol Rusnák speculating about how the recent advancements in the area of computer-generated imagery might influence the transparency of visual communication in the very near future.

Collage: Lenka Hamosova

How Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) changed the way we look on the world,

Or the necessity of visual scepticism in the post-truth era.

Liberalisation and proliferation of image-production tools combined with advanced computational methods such as deep learning and artificial intelligence is a real game-changer in how the reality is going to be perceived. Are we currently standing on the verge of justified permanent suspicion against every piece of visual information?

Recent advancements in the area of computer-generated imagery and graphics hardware becoming more powerful caused that we now live in a completely different world than our ancestors. In a world where sophisticated photo-manipulation processes, realistic 3D rendering, and deep neural networks video-manipulation are available to anyone.

When Ian Goodfellow came with an idea of letting two neural networks to compete against each other, he could hardly imagine the dystopian scenario that followed shortly after the massive success of generative adversarial networks (GANs). GANs created, what artificial intelligence couldn’t reach on its own – machine’s imagination. Something that was always thought as purely human ability now belongs to machines as well. The border between the human and the machine is blurring accordingly with the border between what’s true and what’s fake. We encounter mixed feelings and messed up senses from these novelties. Especially after we all witnessed the rise of deep fake videos and the fall of our reality-detection mechanisms. What does that mean for our visual perception of reality?

“Are we currently standing on the verge of justified permanent suspicion against every piece of visual information?”

Humans developed eyes and visual perception during their evolution as a massive advantage in the survival fight of species a long time ago. Today, we still greatly rely on this sense, leaving other senses such as touch or smell behind. However, should we trust it? We can no longer rely on something that has been a self-evident truth for thousands of years. Believing that “what we see is real.” It’s not such a distant future where our eyes will be witnessing a constant stream of mixed and remixed visual media such as virtual or augmented reality, fabricated deep fake videos and remnants of “real” unmodified imagery.

In this project, we are addressing the future dystopian scenario of visual uncertainty from the perspective of speculative design and computer science. The visual communication, which relied so far mostly on a historical consensus and shared visual experience of the world outside, has to face new compromised reality. In the future, it can maintain its transparency paradoxically only when joining forces with technology, which brought us to this dystopia in the first place. It seems that our senses will have to rely more on additional proofs enabled by cryptography and data analysis. We evaluate existing work in the aforementioned areas and distil a viable solution which is intuitive enough for everyday use.

face generated using the tool StyleGAN (NVIDIA), animation: Lenka Hamosova

This talk was presented during DATATATA Conference 12th April 2019 at the Faculty of Fine Arts of Brno University of Technology.