Reality Hacking: The Secret World Of AI, Bots And Fake News
James Canton Global futurist, keynote presenter, adviser and Game-Changer. CEO, the Institute for Global Futures. Author Future Smart, former Apple executive
This has been a busy post-election time with all of the chaos around what I call Reality Hacking. I am trying to connect a number of events to the emergence of the extreme future happening now. We didn’t really have a term here. With the Russian hacking the US election, now pivoting to Germany, left/right politicos in full cyber web gear and of course the Brexit fallout, who has time to dig deep into the truth of why this is all connected and all about the same spooky technology. OK I do.
Reality Hacking is the electronic manipulation of ideas, opinions, news, information, cyber and my fav—propaganda bots. Why is this happening, this new cyber tradecraft you might ask? The engineering of our realities, (get it Reality Hacking) is the advanced use of artificial intelligence programs called software bots and algorithms as well as big data and analytics that can be applied to just about any issue, cause, problem or challenge you want to influence. And you can wage info war, cyber attack and manipulate public opinion.
The same tech we use to trade stocks, such as machine intelligence, neural networks, really diverse forms of artificial intelligence, we can and do use to influence elections. We just created a new digital species that influences, as well as buys/sells, no actually is seeking to manipulate attitudes and most likely votes. Hacking Reality used to influence elections and harness attitudes that consumers hold, signals a new dangerous era of mass communications. This is information warfare on steroids focused not on military but civilian world. The nuanced soft war that goes on we don’t talk much about. We have seen this before. Believe me when I say George Orwell, author of 1984 would be proud to know his forecast of the future of media has come true!
Just when we elected a new President in the US we found out that there were more fake news postings by over one million plus on the web (where else) then there were factual postings in the real media. And of course this is all today online. I am not taking sides here but Reality Hacking has become a weapon of choice by causes, non-state actors, nations, criminals, terrorists and governments. Information warfare such as psyops, was once only what government cyber shops did to each other. But now non-gov institutions, like the elections are all fair game. We are in a cyberwar era where Reality Hacking is the tool of war that has not been formerly declared.
One can recall the old days like when you only published facts by real journalists. Oh and they had to fact check and confirm the viability, credibility and authenticity of the news they were reporting. Hey even the Guardian and the Times fact checked Snowden. Imagine that.
A few observations. Nobody I have met in leadership or in power really understands the sophisticated technology behind Reality Hacking. The most dramatic example of this of course is try to find anyone at the SEC to explain the Flash Crash in the global market that crashed the stock market wiping out billions in minutes. We were led to believe that a lone gunman (sounds vaguely familiar) meaning a online stock trader hacking out of his parents house in England, caused all the damage. Come on folks. Really it was the software programs that swarmed automatically he created to hack the market that did his bidding. AI at work, Look mom no hands.
The presumption that people could conduct a information war against nations, companies, issues, elections or even people, to influence big events like elections —is absurd yet true. Few leaders know the potential power of automated computer technologies like artificial intelligence, AI forms such as neural networks and machine intelligence. Every day AI trades stocks in the billions of dollars, manufactures everything, manages energy and creates the news—yes that even create the news.Trillions are buying and selling bits, ads, stocks at speeds faster then humans can conceive are all run by AI.
Today AI works for the humans. Tomorrow this futurist forecasts that autonomous AI will operate autonomously for its own agenda. AI for AI. Think information viruses with the global impact of billions of machines, trillions of dollars of Bitcoins and billions of mobile access minds to influence; with an offer to buy this idea now.
In a recent talk on the future of AI I posed the biggest challenge we faced as a civilization was to control AI before it controlled us. Too late. Autonomy is the next battle. Move over intelligent machines here comes autonomous bots, AI’s and fake news. Autonomous AI versus the humans—the AI wars are coming. Another time for this meme.
In fact it works to not think about the link to AI to these larger global transaction platforms that run banking or telecommunications or you name it because if they are electronic, online they of course can be hacked. And they are often. But this is the deeper stuff of scifi movies that are in play now, here, just emerging the hacking of reality as a deliverable, a product.
Of course the most diabolical Reality Hacks are the ones you don’t hear about or that you don’t think exist. For example, if you read news on the web, well it must be true. If you see it on the evening news then its got credibility. The assumption of truth when we see it is high. But now we know we are swimming in search engines, ad servers, artificial intelligence that serves us fake news, manipulated news and propaganda bots shape our reality—thus Reality Hacking is the new science of big data persuasion. Do people want to be entertained more then they want the truth? Now that is spooky.
I don’t think the threat of the Russian hacks of our electoral computers is as potent as the fake news that was generated on Facebook, or the thousands of websites automatically spewing out news that seeks to influence peoples attitudes. Reality Hacking designed just to shed doubt and to stoke the embers of dissent or distrust really has worked wonders on millions of folks. Do we care about what is real. We should.
To chalk this up to living in a filer bubble, where search engines show us just what we want to see, misses the point. Its the engineering of our cyber mindset by what the Reality Hackers think we Should Value. I am OK with tricking out ads and marketing with this but it has gone well beyond this when we are taking elections, public opinion and governance in democracies.
Reality Hacking is behind the British people being influenced to vote for Brexit. The tricked out algo’s, the software bots swayed minds and hearts. The public only saw a limited Group Think of information on the issues, over one third said afterwards. The narrowing of the search engines to show you what the AI in the search engines “thought” you would want to see, helped to influence the Brexit vote. It is quite impossible to assume this was not engineered by humans or engineered AI’s working for conviction based movements—Anti EU for example.
The Russian hack of the US election was not so much targeting computers as to change the hearts and minds and therefore the neuroscience of persuasion which leads to votes. The Reality Hackers set to disorient and spread a sense of questions, doubts, chaos and vulnerability—democracy is a vulnerable institution that cannot be protected from hackers, is a great story. Chaos rules. I don’t think this worked 100% but it didn’t have to. Instilling fear from fake news and propaganda bots did influence voter mindsets. Who is the better candidate when your afraid?
Reality Hacking, the purposeful manipulation of news, information, content, attitudes and ideas via the internet is here to stay. Likely the more connected we are to our mobile, auto, VR, IoT and computer infused Blended Reality will only make us more accessible to those that would have us embrace their “truth”. We should beware and learn to embrace the real from the fake. The actual authentic media has a role here. But the larger issues of engineering our reality, influencing our public policy issues should be looked at. It is not all entertainment.
If there was ever a time to push back and insure that democracies demand truth and honesty it is now. We get the future we make. We get the future we fight for. What kind of future do you want this year?
Good Netiquette And A Green Internet To All!
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