Photojournalism has always been a powerful way of communicating events around the world as an old adage says, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The power of pictures rests in the natural ability of a single picture to tell a story.
This power of pictures is as true today as it has been for decades, but things are changing in this age when you can never be sure of anything. Unfortunately, pictures are now being infected with the same misinformation and disinformation as their thousand-word equivalents.
The best known software app for fixing pictures has been around for a long time, Adobe Acrobat’s Photoshop. Many years ago when I was publishing a quarterly news magazine called World News Digest, I toyed with the idea of using Photoshop to enhance the imagery in the publication. Well, it was highly specialized, and I discovered that it took something in the order of a master’s degree to figure out how to use it.
Well, there’s a new version of the Adobe Photoshop App called “Generative Fill.” It’s being marketed as something anybody can use to alter pictures, whether it’s to erase the image of your ex-boyfriend from that vacation picture, cut out the jerk photobombing your family beach picture or, not part of the marketing pitch but nevertheless, to create fake pictures of Russian successes in the war in Ukraine.
Life is indeed getting very strange, whether it’s the news feeds on the internet, Facebook or Instagram photos, or it’s the friendly hack that promises to fix the viruses on your computer if you’ll simply give them your email address, social security number and date of birth. We live in a world where you can never be sure of anything anymore.
In a more benign but equally disconcerting way, consider this. We are fast approaching a time when you discover that you have a medical issue that needs urgent attention. You go to the emergency room of your local hospital and at the registration desk you are asked the following question: “Would you rather see a doctor or submit to a Medical ChatGPT for evaluation?”
As you were getting into your car, a Tesla, to drive to the hospital emergency room, it asks you another question: “Your trip to the hospital is across the city and the traffic is fairly dense this time of day. Would you rather drive your Tesla cross town or would you like to switch (submit) to autopilot and let your Tesla drive you through the traffic to your destination?”
As your day progresses you arrive home to discover that your son is on his cell phone. You ask him what he’s listening to and he says, “Oh, some podcasters, a little bit of Joe Rogen, Rachel Maddow, Tucker Carlson, Kylie Jenner, the Kardashian sisters, and, yeah, PewDiePie.” And you say, “PewDieWho?” and walk away thinking, “Are the AI virtual influencers taking over as this rising generation’s mentors?”
Most all would agree it’s time to regulate artificial intelligence. But there’s a problem. Nobody in Congress understands it. Here’s what Google CEO Eric Schmidt has to say about this bizarre reality. “There’s no way a non-industry person can understand what is possible. It’s just too new, too hard. There’s not the expertise,” Schmidt told NBC. “There’s no one in the government who can get it right.” Unreal.
In the midst of this unreality show and the hypersonic technology challenges we are facing, we think the most important thing for us Americans to do is eviscerate our national ethos by engaging in culture wars. Go figure.
Climate change deniers. Go figure.
In a more malignant and more disconcerting way I take note of the fact that in the first 150 days of 2023, we have had 263 mass shootings in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave. I tell myself this can’t be real. But this unreality is pervasive. In Uganda last week, extremists attacked a high school at night killing 38 students in their dormitories, hacking most of them to death with machetes.
The show goes on. For the first time in history a former president of the United States is criminally indicted for illegally retaining national defense information under the Espionage Act.
Vladimir Putin continues to believe that his war on Ukraine will solve his country’s problems and up his prestige among global leaders. This week his recklessness went over the rails by announcing that he was sending Russian theater nuclear weapons to Belarus, escalating his nation’s losing special military operation romp, and turning global economics, especially in Russia and Africa, on its head. One thing I’ve learned in my lifetime, whether it’s the Los Angeles riots of 30 years ago, the assault on our nation’s Capitol, mass shootings in our public schools, or Vladimir Putin’s war in Europe, whether communal, national or global in scope, acts of violence have long term consequences.
What I find to be the most troubling of this “unreality show” is that I’m confounded and baffled about what the cures are to what ails humanity. I’m tempted to say the answers are to be found in common sense, but as they say, common sense isn’t common right now.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.