(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘authenticity

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, everyone will need to consider that it may not have actually hatched from an egg”*…

Boris Eldagsen won the creative open category at this year’s Sony World Photography Award with his entry “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician.” He rejected award after revealing that his submission was generated by AI. (source, and more background)

Emerging technology is being used (as ever it has been) to exploit our reflexive assumptions. Victor R. Lee suggests that it’s time to to recalibrate how authenticity is judged…

It turns out that that pop stars Drake and The Weeknd didn’t suddenly drop a new track that went viral on TikTok and YouTube in April 2023. The photograph that won an international photography competition that same month wasn’t a real photograph. And the image of Pope Francis sporting a Balenciaga jacket that appeared in March 2023? That was also a fake.

All were made with the help of generative artifical intelligence, the new technology that can generate humanlike text, audio, and images on demand through programs such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Bard, among others.

There’s certainly something unsettling about the ease with which people can be duped by these fakes, and I see it as a harbinger of an authenticity crisis that raises some difficult questions.

How will voters know whether a video of a political candidate saying something offensive was real or generated by AI? Will people be willing to pay artists for their work when AI can create something visually stunning? Why follow certain authors when stories in their writing style will be freely circulating on the internet?

I’ve been seeing the anxiety play out all around me at Stanford University, where I’m a professor and also lead a large generative AI and education initiative.

With text, image, audio, and video all becoming easier for anyone to produce through new generative AI tools, I believe people are going to need to reexamine and recalibrate how authenticity is judged in the first place.

Fortunately, social science offers some guidance.

Long before generative AI and ChatGPT rose to the fore, people had been probing what makes something feel authentic…

Rethinking Authenticity in the Era of Generative AI,” from @VicariousLee in @undarkmag. Eminently worth reading in full.

And to put these issues into a socio-economic context, see Ted Chiang‘s “Will A.I. Become the New McKinsey?” (and closer to the theme of the piece above, his earlier “ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web“).

* Victor R. Lee (in the article linked above)


As we ruminate on the real, we might send sentient birthday greetings to Oliver Selfridge; he was born on this date in 1926. A mathematician, he became an early– and seminal– computer scientist: a pioneer in artificial intelligence, and “the father of machine perception.”

Marvin Minsky considered Selfridge to be one of his mentors, and with Selfridge organized the 1956 Dartmouth workshop that is considered the founding event of artificial intelligence as a field. Selfridge wrote important early papers on neural networkspattern recognition, and machine learning; and his “Pandemonium” paper (1959) is generally recognized as a classic in artificial intelligence. In it, Selfridge introduced the notion of “demons” that record events as they occur, recognize patterns in those events, and may trigger subsequent events according to patterns they recognize– which, over time, gave rise to aspect-oriented programming.


“Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity”*…

… but that authenticity can be hard to find…

In 2016, US retailer Target severed ties with textile manufacturer Welspun India after discovering that 750,000 sheets and pillowcases labelled Egyptian cotton were not 100% Egyptian after all.

Egypt has long been known for producing long- and extra-long-staple cotton, a variety of the crop with especially long threads that results in softer and more durable fabric – so products labelled Egyptian typically command a higher price. But the year after the Welspun incident, the Cotton Egypt Association estimated that 90% of global supplies of Egyptian cotton in 2016 were fake.

Egyptian cotton is not the only fabric that has fallen foul of mislabelling in recent years. In 2020, the Global Organic Textile Standard (Gots) said that 20,000 tonnes of Indian cotton had been incorrectly certified as organic – around a sixth of the country’s total production. In 2017, a Vietnamese silk brand admitted that half of its silk actually came from China. And in 2018, several British retailers had to withdraw “faux” fur products that turned out to be the real thing.

From choosing an organic cotton T-shirt to buying trainers made out of recycled plastic bottles, many of us opt to pay more in the hope that our purchase will be better quality, or help people or the planet. However, as the Welspun incident and others have shown, when it comes to textiles, we’re not always getting what we think we’ve paid for…

How can we tell if the clothes in our wardrobes really are what they claim to be? “Why fabric fraud is so easy to hide,” from @BBC_Future.

* Coco Chanel


As we root around for the real, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that Howard Hawks’ comedy Bringing Up Baby premiered at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. Featuring Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and a leopard, the film earned good reviews but suffered at the box office. Indeed, Hepburn’s career fell into a slump– she was one of a group of actors labeled as “box office poison” by the Independent Theatre Owners of America– that she broke with The Philadelphia Story (again with Grant) in 1940.

As for Bringing Up Baby, the film did well when re-released in the 1940s, and grew further in popularity when it began to be shown on television in the 1950s. Today it is recognized as the authentic screwball classic that it is; it sits at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and ranks among “Top 100” on lists from the American Film Institute and the National Society of Film Critics.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

February 16, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings”*…

Can artificial intelligence have those feelings? Scientist and poet Keith Holyoak explores:

… Artificial intelligence (AI) is in the process of changing the world and its societies in ways no one can fully predict. On the hazier side of the present horizon, there may come a tipping point at which AI surpasses the general intelligence of humans. (In various specific domains, notably mathematical calculation, the intersection point was passed decades ago.) Many people anticipate this technological moment, dubbed the Singularity, as a kind of Second Coming — though whether of a savior or of Yeats’s rough beast is less clear. Perhaps by constructing an artificial human, computer scientists will finally realize Mary Shelley’s vision.

Of all the actual and potential consequences of AI, surely the least significant is that AI programs are beginning to write poetry. But that effort happens to be the AI application most relevant to our theme. And in a certain sense, poetry may serve as a kind of canary in the coal mine — an early indicator of the extent to which AI promises (threatens?) to challenge humans as artistic creators. If AI can be a poet, what other previously human-only roles will it slip into?…

A provocative consideration: “Can AI Write Authentic Poetry?@mitpress.

Apposite: a fascinating Twitter thread on “why GPT3 algorithm proficiency at producing fluent, correct-seeming prose is an exciting opportunity for improving how we teach writing, how students learn to write, and how this can also benefit profs who assign writing, but don’t necessarily teach it.”

* W. H. Auden


As we ruminate on rhymes, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to Michael Gazzaniga; he was born on this date in 1939. A leading researcher in cognitive neuroscience (the study of the neural basis of mind), his work has focused on how the brain enables humans to perform those advanced mental functions that are generally associated with what we call “the mind.” Gazzaniga has made significant contributions to the emerging understanding of how the brain facilitates such higher cognitive functions as remembering, speaking, interpreting, and making judgments.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 12, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The first duty in life is to be as artificial as possible. What the second duty is no one has as yet discovered.”*…

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Bo Winegard is not so sure that authenticity is a virtue…

That we should not lie is generally sound advice, though few of us are able to navigate life without uttering or affirming the occasional falsehood. However, some—generally those of a romantic temperament—also strive to apply this counsel to the self. They argue that authenticity is one of humankind’s chief virtues and that betraying it is immoral and tragic—immoral, because it requires a person to lie about their underlying being; tragic, because it smothers the unique self beneath a dull blanket of conformity.

I do not share this enthusiasm for authenticity because it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of human nature. At best, authenticity can be undesirable; at worst, it is philosophically incoherent. The word “authenticity” is sometimes useful in ordinary discourse—we may say that a person is authentically a lover of the arts or authentically cheerful or authentically kindhearted, and it’s obvious what these claims mean. Nor will I deny that lying about one’s own traits and tendencies is often a bad idea and sometimes genuinely immoral. Nevertheless, authenticity, as understood by many of its modern champions, is not a noble or even attainable ideal…

Read on for his argument– the short form of which is that to be human is to be artificial: “Against Authenticity,” from @EPoe187 in @Quillette.

Apposite (albeit from an orthogonal perspective): “After Authenticity,” from @tobyshorin.

* Oscar Wilde


As we settle for sincerity (?), we might recall that on this date in 1787 George Washington hosted a farewell dinner for his officers (which doubled as a celebration of the signing of the Constitution and Washington’s election as the new nation’s first President) that resulted in an epic tab, largely for drinks. The bill, at the City Tavern in Philadelphia, totaled over 89 pounds– between $15,400 and $17,253 in today’s dollars.

A replica of the historic City Tavern, where Washington ran up his tab.
Smallbones/Wikimedia Commons

Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 15, 2022 at 1:00 am

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