Wellington Blog: Can you believe what you see?

by The Rev Dr Roger Sturrock

If you are an avid reader of J.K.Rowling’s  Harry Potter books you will know that one of the magical potions, Polyjuice, enables a wizard to transform into anyone for a period of time provided a hair or a piece of clothing belonging to the victim is included in the potion!

But in the past week I came across a newspaper article about the subject of “deepfakes” something entirely new to me.  What is a deepfake?  It is a type of video created by artificial intelligence (AI) that can enable someone to map someone’s face on to another’s body.  Essentially, computer analysis of a person’s face tracking eye and mouth movements and every detail of facial expression together with the timbre of the voice can create an identical image of you or me that is transposed on to another’s body!  We can be made to say and get involved in situations that would normally be completely alien to us.

This is a very sophisticated deception so that in the present age that is dominated by social medica platforms such as TickTock and Instagram etc. we cannot be really sure if the images that we see on our screens are genuine or not.

Obama at the 2011 State of the Union (source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/)

Barak Obama was one of the early targets of this technology and an artificial image was created of him insulting Donald Trump – a completely spurious event.  The development of this very sophisticated computer and AI programming is very disturbing as it has all the potential to create fake news in a way that is utterly convincing. 

The New Testament has something to say about false images created with evil intent.  The Apostle Paul warns the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 11) that there were those who claimed to be apostles of Christ in their midst but whose intent was evil.  He points out that even Satan can appear as an angel of light!

Jesus in Matthew 23:4-6 criticises the religious leaders of the day for their preoccupation with their public image: “they do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues

How then are we to discern whether what we see and hear on the media is genuine or not?    Paul in his letter to Titus (Titus 1:16) about deceivers in the and around the church fellowship puts it very trenchantly as translated by Eugene Peterson in the Message:

“They leave their dirty fingerprints on every thought and act. They say they know God, but their actions speak louder than their words. They’re real creeps, disobedient good-for-nothings.”

A good yardstick for judging deepfakes!

Roger Sturrock


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