The worst thing about deepfakes is that we know about them

Roko's Basilisk is a notorious thought experiment regarding artificial intelligence and our own perceptions of reality, particularly as it relates to a hypothetically powerful AI. It's kind of like Newcomb's Paradox, with a little more Battlestar Galactica-style AI genocide.

If you want to know more about it, feel free to click the link. But be warned: the whole point of Roko's Basilisk is that the mere knowledge of Roko's Basilisk also makes you complicit in Roko's Basilisk. If Roko's Basilisk is real—a question which is intrinsic to the thought experiment itself—then the potential contained within that hypothetical idea is enough to sow the seeds to self-destructive doubt. And that's how Roko's Basilisk wins.

You don't need to know the specific details of Roko's Basilisk to understand how the concept could relate to the growing phenomenon of deepfakes—the manipulation of deep Learning technology to create deceptively realistic videos, like adding Nicholas Cage's face into every movie. The cybersecurity firm DeepTrace recently released a report on the myriad ways that deepfakes threaten our trust in knowledge, and in our own eyes. And their conclusion? The mere idea of deepfakes is enough to bring the worst case scenario to life—even if we never actually reach that worst case scenario in practice.

Nicholas Cage as Amy Adams, because Deepfakes.

In reality, deepfakes haven't actually been used to successfully falsify videos of politicians to use as large-scale propaganda; like most things on the internet, they're mostly used for porn. But the fact that they could be used to deceive the public is itself enough to make public trust spiral downwards, causing us to debate both what is true, and the methods by which we determine what is true. Read the rest

Republic of Lies: the rise of conspiratorial thinking and the actual conspiracies that fuel it

Anna Merlan has made a distinguished journalistic career out of covering conspiracy theories, particularly far-right ones, for Gizmodo Media; her book-length account of conspiratorial thinking, Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power, is a superb tour not just through the conspiracies that have taken hold in American public discourse, but also in the real, often traumatic conspiracies that give these false beliefs a terrible ring of plausibility. Read the rest

Did the US try to weaponize ticks?

The US House passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that orders the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to "conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975." The amendment was spearheaded by New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith. From CBS News:

The theory, which sounds like something straight out of a science fiction novel, contends that bioweapon specialists packed ticks with pathogens that could cause severe disabilities, disease and death among potential enemies to the homeland. Smith said he was inspired to add the amendment to the annual defense bill by "a number of books and articles suggesting that significant research had been done at U.S. government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York to turn ticks and other insects into bioweapons."

Those books, however, have been questioned by some experts who dismiss long-held conspiracy theories that the federal government aided the spread of tick-borne diseases, and federal agencies, including the CDC, may have participated in a cover-up of sorts to conceal findings about the spread of Lyme disease.

Here's the amendment.

image: "Chelicera of the sheep tick" by Richard Bartz (CC) Read the rest

Seth Rich conspiracy was a Russian military operation: Yahoo News

The Seth Rich conspiracy traces back to an SVR operation, reports Yahoo News today. Huge if true, and possibly the Russian military's biggest coup yet, not counting the one that landed Trump in the White House. Read the rest

Courts and cops don't know what to do with "sovereign citizens," the delusional far-rightists who claim the law doesn't apply to them

The "sovereign citizen" movement is a grifty, anti-Semitic/white-nationalist-adjacent cult whose conspiratorial beliefs include a bunch of reasons that neither law enforcement nor courts have jurisdiction over them, and also that the federal government is not allowed to own land (this being the rubric for the Cliven Bundy terrorists' seizure of the Malheur Oregon Wildlife Refuge. Read the rest

The weird grift of "sovereign citizens": where UFOlogy meets antisemitism by way of Cliven Bundy and cat-breeding

Since the 2008 financial crisis, the "sovereign citizen" movement/conspiracy theory (previously) has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks to a combination of the rise of antisemitism (long a dogwhistle in the movement, now out in the open), an increase in financial desperation and a sense of betrayal, and the movement's ability to realize real cash for its members, who have systematically defrauded the underfunded and resource-strapped IRS of move than $1B. Read the rest

Alex Jones's deposition over his role in the harassment of Sandy Hook parents is a total shitshow

As the lawsuit against Alex Jones for his role in directing and encouraging the vicious harassment of the parents of children murdered at the Sandy Hook shooting has led to a lawsuit, and that has led to discovery and depositions that reveal much about how Jones deliberately and cynically created the campaign of terror against the grieving parents -- and the role that organizations like the NRA play in the creation of cruel and destructive conspiracy theories about mass shootings. Read the rest

Study suggests that Flat Eartherism spread via Youtube

The rise in a belief that the Earth is flat is bizarre and somewhat frightening, a repudiation of one of the most basic elements of scientific consensus. Texas Tech University psych researcher Asheley R. Landrum attended a 2017 flat earth convention and interviewed 30 attendees to trace the origins of their belief in a flat earth, finding that Youtube videos were key to their journey into conspiracy theories; her findings were bolstered by a survey of more than 500 participants. Read the rest

Ten years after Juneau ditched water fluoridation, kids racked up an average of $300/each in extra dental bills

It's been ten years since the people of Juneau, Alaska succumbed to conspiracy theories and voted to ruin their kids' teeth by removing fluoride from the drinking water, and it shows. Read the rest

#D5: Advice for people who just realized that Qanon is bullshit

Qanon is an unbelievably stupid conspiracy theory whose underlying bullshittery is mathematically provable, and whose primary proponents are pallsy with the President, and whose adherents include mass-murderers whose crimes are linked to their belief in the Qanon conspiracy. Read the rest

On Thanksgiving Eve, Facebook quietly admitted to hiring dirty tricksters to publish an anti-Semitic Soros hoax smearing its critics

When the New York Times published its insider report detailing how Facebook executives had hired the Republic PR firm Definers, known for it dirty tricks campaigns, and then directed it to spread lies linking Facebook's critics to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that George Soros secretly directs political campaigns in the US and abroad, Facebook lied and said that the New York Times was wrong. Read the rest

Apple kicks Alex Jones and Infowars out of the App Store

All but exiled from social media over his violent threats and harassment of journalists, Alex Jones's Infowars iOS app became his last prominent platform1 after Twitter finally gave him the boot. Apple promptly banned it hours later, citing a rule against "content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste."

The App Store has been a valuable platform for Infowars. The site relaunched its app on July 9, and, according to the analytics company Apptopia, it was downloaded about 93,000 times in its first month. Though it cautioned that the app is still too new to the App Store for it to provide definitive daily average user analytics, Apptopia told BuzzFeed News that Infowars has logged more than 600,000 hours spent in-app as of August. After Jones' ban from Facebook, YouTube, and Apple's podcast platform, the app surged to the third spot in Apple's App Store.

1. It's still on the Google Play store. No-one seems to care? Is it just a toxic waste site these days? Read the rest

Tech platforms quit Alex Jones and InfoWars

Apple has joined Facebook, Spotify and YouTube in tossing Alex Jones and InfoWars material from their platforms.

Apple has removed the entire library for five of Infowars' six podcasts from its iTunes and Podcast apps, BuzzFeed News has learned. Among the podcasts, which were removed from Apples' iTunes directory, are the show "War Room" as well as the popular Alex Jones Show podcast, which is hosted daily by the prominent conspiracy theorist.

The Guardian:

Facebook has banned four pages run by the American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for “repeated violations of community standards”, the company said on Monday. The removal of the pages – the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the Infowars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page – comes after Facebook imposed a 30-day ban on Jones personally “for his role in posting violating content to these pages”.

Until recent days, tech platforms found it hard to understand why they shouldn't support Jones, a conspiracy theorist who claimed that the Sandy Hook parents were paid actors, that 9/11 was perpretrated not by Al Queda but by "globalists", and that the government is poisoning children to make them gay.

The public is growing keenly aware that Silicon Valley's supposed free-speech principles are not only self-serving but plainly up for sale, so there's little point supporting someone whose makes them look this bad. Read the rest

Profiles of flat earthers: report from the front lines of weaponized media literacy

Tom Usher went to a flat earth conference in Birmingham, England; he met an array of people who believe that the Earth is flat, because they believe that powerful people have conspired to control the information they receive in order to secure benefits for the elite, and this belief (which has a wealth of evidence to support it!) has been weaponized by crackpots and cynical manipulators to convince them the world is flat (despite the wealth of evidence against this!). Read the rest

DHS dismisses critics of its plan to assemble a hostility-sorted list of journalists and commentators as "conspiracy theorists"

When Bloomberg spotted a Department of Homeland Security RFP for a database of journalists and sources, classified by how friendly or hostile they were to the DHS, it struck many of us as sinister, especially under an administration whose official, on-the-record position is that the free press is an enemy of the USA. Read the rest

Flat earth-preaching rocketeer finally gets off the ground

You likely read about "Mad" Mike Hughes in the news last year – you know, when you weren't busy stockpiling canned goods and potassium Iodide tablets to help deal with the existential dread that's currently gripping the planet. Hughes is the flat-earth loving, paradoxical science-hating DIY rocket designer who stated that he'd blast himself into the sky in a steam-powered, homemade rocket to prove that the earth isn't round.

That was a mouthful, but there's a lot going on here.

The first time that Hughes attempted to fire himself into the air in a blaze of Darwinism, the Department of Land Management shut him down, as his flight path would have taken him into the airspace over public lands. So, Hughes scrubbed the launch. Yesterday, he took another go.

According to the Associated Press, Hughes's steam-powered death chair was able to carry him to a distance of 1,875 feet into the air before he and his capsule floated back to earth, in relative safety, via parachute. When questioned about how he was feeling after surviving his flight, Hughes seemed happy that it was over and done with, citing that his back hurt, but over all he felt relieved that it was over.

No matter what you believe about Hughes' beliefs about the shape of the earth, of the lunacy it takes to strap yourself to the tip of a homemade rocket, you've got to respect that he pulled it off. Maybe he didn't gain as much altitude as he'd wanted. Read the rest

Good reality check: Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies

The authors of the entertaining 388-page Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies For Dummies make short work of debunking a bunch of popular tinfoil hat bugaboos, like Roswell, Area 51, underground government installations, chemtrails, faked moon landings, 911 truthers, Illuminati, etc. They also have a good section explaining why some people are attracted to conspiracy theories, and tips for being a good skeptic. The paperback version is just $(removed) and according to the decription, it was was required reading in a 2010 course on conspiracy at Harvard University. My kids are at the age when they are wondering about conspiracy theories, because it is a appealing but flawed filter for understanding a complicated world. I'm hoping they'll read it. I wish I had this book when I was a teenager.

Background image by Adamgasth - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link Read the rest

More posts