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By Joseph Schafer
USA Today recently ran a piece on the emergence of “deepfakes” https://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/2019/04/26/deepfakes-detection-have-you-been-tricked-fake-obama/3588955002/
Deepfakes is a term applied to the ability to manipulate video to modify words and possible actions. In other words, to take something that is ostensibly real and modify it in such a way that the video conveys something entirely different. The implications for policing, while they might seem distant and rare, are profound, particularly when coupled with social media and a 280-character news cycle based on short attention spans and limited critical evaluation of sources.
The technology is being advanced, in part, by entertainment media. Video of an actor might be modified in post-production to correct an error or insert a better joke. An actor who has died can still complete their appearance in a film or TV show (although there might be legal, contractual, and financial implications).
Consider this technology in the hands of a foreign nation, however. Just days before an election, video might be released that seems to show a candidate making a particular statement. The capacity to interfere with free elections is profound and the risk in upcoming election cycles is astonishingly real. What was a pipe-dream in 2016 increasingly appears to be a reality for 2020.
In time, the risks here will not be limited to entertainment media or nations leveraging influence campaigns against each other. Imagine controversial police use of force event captured by a bystander’s mobile phone. In the near future, it might be possible to manipulate that video to make it appear the officer made biased, vulgar, or profane statements. In time, it might be possible to manipulate the video even more, to edit out citizen resistance or elevate the apparent force used by an officer.
In all of these examples, is anyone calling for the development of forensic expertise to analyze video and determine manipulation has taken place? Do crime labs and investigative agencies employ personnel with the requisite skill set for such analysis? How long will it take to develop credentialing standards for such forensic examiners? Will society care, or label reports that video has been altered “fake news”, continuing to believe that what they saw in a video with their own eyes represents reality?
Questions abound, but answers and solutions (for now) appear elusive. As future thinking police leaders, are we doing enough to call for attention and action on this issue before matters escalate beyond mitigation?
we have long known that there is little relationship between crime rate and people’s fear of crime. facts don’t matter very much. (e.g., http://abs.sagepub.com/content/39/4/379.short)
a recent RAND publication reminds us that terrorism has declined.
“…an overall decline of terrorism in the West since the 1970s.
These findings suggest that the threat of terrorism should not affect individuals’ behavior in the United States and Western Europe-not even in the wake of a significant terrorist event.”(http://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE173.html )
faint hope, that. fear of terrorism remains high (http://www.gallup.com/poll/4909/terrorism-united-states.aspx)
implication: if we focus merely on terrorism- and crime-fighting we will be missing the reassurance that many in our population seek. they seek a perception of “safety” rather than absence of terrorism and crime.
on the up side, if people were rational, we wouldn’t need many cops.
the author makes a good argument — that in a cashless society, we (public and private sectors) will have information on nearly every detail of people’s lives. cash inevitably will be, as the author says, supplanted by information — and to a considerable extent already is.
the arguments will make the current fbi vs apple sort of argument seem rather penny ante. police — or private sector surrogates — will have comprehensive information about everyone’s lives, including those of other police.
what is clear is that the potential for “enemy of the state” on steroids is real. what is not clear is what police will do with that information.
how could — or should — law enforcement (and police) prepare for this probable future?
nick gives an example of how one might properly analyse data. department-wide data usually are not very helpful. the devil — and the opportunity for improvement — are in the details, in crosstabs, in demographics, in ……
gross averages hide more than they reveal.
imagine police departments that had crime analysts, or analysts of any sort, who had the statistical and scientific chops to collect and crunch the numbers in a meaningful way instead of in a way intended to garner (or combat) headlines.
of course, that would require a lot of imagination. few chiefs can afford to hire such folks. but wouldn’t it be interesting if analysis were to supplant politicized and uninformed argument?
The task, preventing violent extremism, reminds one of “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” While Lamont Cranston might have known, for the rest of us the task remains foreboding.
Any of us should be grateful when simple, understandable and credible hope is put forth. Schanzer et al. have done us that favor. Still, the limits — mostly as laid out by the authors — should be understood.
These are “promising.” We’ve seen promises evaporate in other contexts. These are not easy to pull off. And the barriers to success are non-trivial.
Michela Del Vicario and colleagues wrote an interesting research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2016/01/02/1517441113.full.pdf). They studied how scientific information and “unsubstantiated rumors and conspiracy theories” are spread via Facebook.
It turns out that both types of information tend to spread via homogeneous “echo chambers.” Scientific information tends to get out faster. The rumors and conspiracy theories have a much longer distribution cycle. And neither group of people talks much to the other.
Most likely, this will surprise few of us. These sorts of processes have been going on since there has been something recognizable as science. The challenge for policing remains how to cope with the spread of rumors and conspiracy theories as their consumers tend to be isolated from sources of scientific evidence.
The challenge goes even beyond that. Police, too, are people, subject to many of the same social processes that affect private citizens. Police, too, may be isolated from scientific evidence. That makes police leadership somewhat of a challenge.
So, as chiefs and sheriffs lead their organizations toward various futures, how can they best enhance the distribution of objective evidence, cope with rumors and conspiracy theories, and encourage the sharing of information across narratives? Surely, transparency can help — rumors and conspiracy theories emerge more often when the supply of objective information is limited. But what else can or should be done?