Even Bill Gates Is Worried that Silicon Valley Will Unleash the Apocalypse
“If ever there was a time for the people creating technologies to keep in mind the impact of their creations, it’s now,” my colleague Nick Bilton wrote last year, in the wake of the 2016 election, warning that an influx of new technologies was about to make the Internet’s misinformation plague 10 times worse. Since then, certain tech companies have showed signs of contrition, but very little openness to meaningful change. Social platforms raked in record earnings last quarter as marketers flooded them with advertising dollars, and lawmakers have delivered stern words, but no legislation to address the crisis. This sort of complacency, industry leaders like Bill Gates warn, is entirely insufficient to deal with the rising threat of a technological arms race—one in which software capable of taking down power grids, hijacking vehicles, and even creating fake audio and video that is indistinguishable from the real thing, spreads across the globe without safeguards.
“There’s always the question how much technology is empowering a small group of people to cause damage,” Gates told Axios when asked what trends truly frighten him. “[S]maller groups might have access to . . . nuclear weapons or, even worse, bioterror or cyber [weapons],” he said, adding, “A small group can have an impact—in the case of nuclear, on millions; and in the case of bio, on billions. That is scary to me.”
It’s not yet clear what, exactly, schlerotic governments can do to mitigate the threat. Gates argues that Big Tech companies should strike a balance between conducting independent business and allowing for government oversight—a lesson Gates himself learned when Microsoft attracted a federal inspection over questions of whether it had a monopoly in the software industry. “Companies need to be careful that they’re not . . . advocating things that would prevent government from being able to, under appropriate review, perform the type of functions that we’ve come to count on,” he said. But the worst is yet to come, says Aviv Ovadya, the man who predicted the fake-news crisis of 2016. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed News, Ovadya predicted that the spread of fake news is likely to accelerate, with better technology that allows for propaganda and misinformation to spread, and digital tools that falsify reality and manipulate perception. With improvements in machine learning and artificial intelligence, anyone could make it “appear as if anything has happened, regardless of whether or not it did,” Ovadya said. “Previously one would have needed to have a human to mimic a voice or come up with an authentic fake conversation—in this version you could just press a button using open source software. That’s where it becomes novel—when anyone can do it because it’s trivial. Then it’s a whole different ball game.”
As Bilton cautioned last year, however, the momentum in Silicon Valley may be unstoppable. Adobe unveiled its “Photoshop for audio” with fanfare. The film industry has worked to make C.G.I. characters almost indistinguishable from their flesh-and-blood counterparts. As the world becomes increasingly wired and hacking tools more sophisticated, the potential for abuse will correspondingly multiply. In the run-up to the 2016 election, warnings that foreign actors could use social-media platforms to disseminate misinformation went largely ignored within the tech industry itself. This time, should Big Tech fail to heed the red flags that Gates, and others, have raised, we could be in for something even more nightmarish. As Ovadya put it, “We are so screwed it’s beyond what most of us can imagine. . . . And depending how far you look into the future it just gets worse.”
via The Hive
February 13, 2018 at 10:49AM