Deep Fakes and Deep Falsehoods

I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.

With every welcome advance in Technology comes equally unwelcome advances in their uses and thereby the potential for serious harm. Thus, writing in The San Francisco Chronicle, Annie Ostojic, a Stanford University Master’s student in Electrical Engineering who focuses on Biomedical applications, details how deepfakes pose a serious threat to Healthcare[i].

In a word, the ability to manipulate images makes it possible to alter MRIs so that they can either hide Tumors that need to be treated or show false Tumors for which operations are not necessary, and thereby can cause harm.

For years, what Physicians could see with their own eyes was the guiding factor. Today, “the eyes are no longer the beholder of clinical truth and can be deceived by visual clues. If doctors cannot trust what they are seeing to be true, then a fundamental element of their profession is undermined”.

As with so many things in today’s world, there are no easy answers. Thus, using other technologies such as Artificial Intelligence to check on the veracity of images only opens one up to the possibility of their being used for harm as well.

As Ms. Ostojic says, “A picture is worth a thousand words, but a pixel is worth a billion truths. The medical industry has only experienced the tip of the deepfake iceberg, and this is the time to prepare before deepfake infiltration becomes a commodity in the medical arena”.

True, but this misses a vital point. As one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management, I’ve been arguing for years that the time to prepare for crises is at the very beginning of a Technology’s development, not after it’s already been deployed. By then, it may be too late. It’s not that one will necessarily be entirely successful at the start because new Threats develop over time. The best one can do is to be ever vigilant. And this means that hyper-vigilance has to be present and encouraged from the very beginning.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that such a task is more difficult than ever. For instance, according to Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, “ People forget that in the past few years, even though it’s been very difficult, we have been spared multiple threats at the same time…Taken separately, [Covid, flu, and RSV] are manageable, but when they all come together, the difficulty posed for the system is pretty extreme, and we’re seeing that now”[ii].

In sum, we are not prepared for the kinds of crises of today’s world. As I’ve written repeatedly, no crisis is EVER a single, well-contained and isolated crisis. It’s part of a problematic System of multiple Crises, each of which is capable of setting an unwelcome series of other Crises.

It’s not only pointless to prepare for individual Crises in isolation, but it actually leads to even worse ones.

System, System, System!

[i] Annie Ostojic, “Deepfakes pose a threat to health,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, December 15, 2022, P A14.

[ii] Aiden Vaziri and Claire Hao, “Winter fears as COVID cases rise,” The San Francisco Chronicle, Friday, December 9, 2022, PP A1 and A11.

Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.



Professor Emeritus USC

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