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On October 31, 2023, a 21-year-old man from Indiana named Damoine Wilcoxson was arrested after a three-hour standoff with police and charged with two crimes: the murder of John Clements, an 82-year-old man gunned down while getting the mail outside his home in Zionsville, a suburb 15 miles northwest of Indianapolis, and two shootings at local police stations.
The violent crimes, which took place from late September to mid-October 2023, were not initially believed to be connected. But investigators determined that multiple shell casings from the bullets fired at all three crime scenes matched up.
With no obvious connection between Clements’ murder and the police shootings, detectives sent the shell casings, along with other crime scene evidence, to the forensics lab, where they were able to identify a clear genetic profile left behind on some items. These genetic samples were then scanned against the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national forensic DNA database used by law enforcement across the country, which led to a direct match with Wilcoxson, whose genetic material was already stored in the police index. On the basis of this evidence, Wilcoxson was charged, tried, and found guilty of both crimes, eventually receiving two consecutive prison sentences totaling 102 years.
But what if instead of just bringing more perpetrators to justice, the widespread perception of law enforcement’s genetic omniscience was also preventing crimes from happening in the first place? Or to put it slightly differently, what if the fear of being done in by DNA is actually holding potential offenders back from criminal behavior? This would seem like an extremely difficult effect to measure, but some researchers are using sophisticated analysis of crime data to argue that it is real, and that it results in lower recidivism rates.
After his arrest in October 2023, Wilcoxson’s case prompted a debate in Indiana’s Senate about who could and couldn’t be added to the forensic DNA database. As it stood, police in Indiana were only allowed to take DNA samples from convicted felons. Wilcoxson’s sample, however, had been added to CODIS after he was arrested for, but not convicted of, robbery in Ohio in 2023. Proponents of more expansive DNA collection laws in Indiana were quick to point out that if it weren’t for Ohio’s more lenient legislation, Wilcoxson might have got away with his crimes. So it was only natural that Indiana soon joined Ohio, as one of more than 30 states that now have “all crimes” DNA collection.
This increase in police authority was part of a broader and ongoing trend in the U.S., where DNA databases have expanded to include incrementally less severe crimes at different rates across state jurisdictions. When Jennifer Doleac, a professor of economics at Texas A&M University, read a New York Times article about this steady expansion across the country, she realized that it offered an excellent opportunity for doing what economists call a natural experiment. By comparing offenders before and after new sampling laws came into place, she would be able to measure the individual effect being swabbed had on future criminal behavior.
For example, she could compare future outcomes for people who served time in prison for burglary and then had their DNA added to a database, versus others who served time in prison for the same crime, but were not added to a database. In aggregate, one could surmise the effect of the database itself on recidivism rates.
In her first study, which used criminal history data from seven U.S. states between 1994 and 2005, Doleac found that violent offenders who gave a DNA sample were 17 percent less likely to reoffend within the first five years of release than those who did not; serious property offenders were 6 percent less likely to reoffend. In a follow-up study that considered crime rates in Denmark, she again found that DNA registration reduced recidivism: Those sampled were up to 43 percent less likely to reoffend in the first year. They were also more likely to find employment, enroll in educational programs, and enjoy a stable family life.
These findings were surprising for Doleac. “Going into this, I thought DNA databases didn’t work as a deterrence measure,” she told me. “I really was very skeptical, but the effect sizes on recidivism … are huge.”
For Doleac, the power of DNA databases as a preventative crime tool is best understood through the lens of behavioral economics, which considers criminal behavior as a rational response to competing incentives, a calculus of “should I, shouldn’t I” based on potential benefits and costs to the would-be offender.
This paradigm was first laid out by Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker, who proposed in his 1968 essay “Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,” that fewer people will choose to commit crime when the expected punishment increases. But Doleac’s research suggested that increasing the likelihood of getting caught for a crime actually has a bigger impact on future behavior than changing the severity of the sentence.
“This is how DNA databases work as crime deterrents,” she explained. “Once an offender knows that these databases exist, they are wary of getting caught and so they are less likely to commit another crime.”
Following passage of a state law a few years earlier, the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act, also known as Katie’s Law, was first introduced in Congress in 2010 to provide federal funding for state police forces to do just that. On an episode of the television program “America’s Most Wanted” aired that same year, President Barack Obama offered his support for the legislation, proposing that larger databases would help law enforcement “continue to tighten the grip around folks who have perpetrated these crimes.” The federal bill was signed into law in 2013.
The history of the U.K.’s genetic index, however, suggests a more complex story. The Brits were trailblazers in genetic policing, establishing their National DNA Database (NDNAD) in 1995. The database quickly became the largest in the world, and by 2006, contained 2.7 million people, more than 5.2 percent of the population.
The database had some early success in matching offenders to crimes, particular property crimes, but as it expanded, statistics show that it actually became less effective. In fact, wrote Carole McCartney, a professor of law at Northumbria University, in a paper earlier this year: “During the time of rapid expansion of the database, the number of crimes detected using the NDNAD fell in 2004/05 and did not significantly increase in the following three years.”
Similar effects hold across Europe and the U.S., where larger databases do not correlate to a more efficient crime fighting tool, and can even lead to increased margins of error. Some have suggested that this reduction in efficiency occurs in part because forensic labs become overburdened with new samples, creating a backlog of unanalyzed genetic data, rendering the bigger database less efficient in finding matches. Moreover, as databases grow and labs become overburdened, so do the chances of inaccuracies and false positive matches.
But for McCartney, this reduced efficiency is intimately connected with the database’s capacity to work as a crime deterrence tool. “There’s a risk that people will just say, oh well if we now have 9 million [people] on the DNA database, how come we haven’t solved crime yet? This will reduce public confidence in the DNA database as this silver bullet in finding a criminal,” McCartney said. “You lose public confidence, which in turn will reduce its so-called effectiveness as a deterrence measure.”
Doleac concedes that the current deterrence effect identified in her research is at least partially caused by the “CSI-effect,” a term criminologists use to refer to an inflated belief in a forensic tool’s capacity to solve a case as a result of its media representation. But Doleac added that this effect—which functions subjectively in the mind of an offender when they are interacting with law enforcement —might be more powerful and persistent than some imagine.
“I think that when the police give someone a [saliva] swab and tell them they’re being added to the DNA database, the image pops into their head of these crime dramas on TV,” she said. “They think that as soon as they commit any new crime, their photo will appear on police station walls and they’ll get caught. This is an overestimation of the tool’s power, for sure, but I doubt that the majority of people who get arrested will ever go looking in science journals or crime statistics to correct this.”
Beyond the question of effectiveness, as forensic DNA databases have expanded across the U.S., there has been an ongoing legal debate about whether such surveillance techniques violate a constitutional right to privacy.
In 2009, Alonzo King was arrested on assault charges in Wicomico County, Maryland, and had his DNA sample taken, entered into the forensic database, and then matched to crime scene evidence from a 2003 rape case, for which he was then convicted. King filed a motion to suppress the DNA evidence, arguing that it infringed on his Fourth Amendment rights. The motion was initially denied in the trial court, but later granted in the Maryland Court of Appeals. The State of Maryland then appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case was heard in 2013.
A 5-4 majority held in favor of Maryland, ruling that taking DNA samples was “like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” But the dissenting judges, led by Antonin Scalia, argued that using DNA in “cold hit” searches was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy that eroded the presumption of innocence.
“Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise,” Scalia wrote in his judgment, referring to Jeremy Bentham’s design for a prison in which one warden sits in the middle of a circular building, giving the prisoners the impression of being surveilled at all times. “But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.”
But Doleac says there is a widespread misunderstanding about precisely how invasive DNA databases are. “People tend to think that this DNA is being used by the government to decode sensitive information about them but it’s not,” she said. “In my view, the privacy costs of [DNA databases] are pretty low relative to things like having CCTV cameras everywhere,” which most people, she said, have “become used to at this point.”
In a 2023 study, Doleac also looked at how much these databases may save us in purely economic terms: Each convicted felon profile added to a DNA database between 2000 and 2010, she estimated, generated a cost savings of between $1,566 and $19,945. From an economic perspective, this offers a powerful argument against historical policy decisions in the U.S. that have aimed to deter criminals by increasing prison time, which experts say has led to the current mass incarceration crisis.
But Terri Rosenblatt, supervising attorney of the DNA Unit at New York’s Legal Aid Society, argues that the “modern technology has made DNA databases more invasive than before.” As they’ve been expanded to include misdemeanor offenses, she explained, they have become racially biased, with an over representation of African American and Latino men, who are disproportionately apprehended by police for minor offenses. (The same is true in the U.K. In 2008, approximately 27 percent of the black population had profiles on the NDNAD compared with just 6 percent of the white population. Young black men were most overrepresented, with 77 percent of the population sampled.) “Over-representation of people of color is even worse where local governments, like NYC, maintain unregulated DNA indexes that include people who have never been convicted, and might not have even been arrested, for a crime,” Rosenblatt added in an email.
According to Marc Washington, project coordinator of Arches Transformative Mentoring Program in New York—which serves teenagers and young adults from ages 16 to 24 who are on probation—this takes a toll on communities that bear the burden of surveillance anxiety. “These techniques, they are used, they create an atmosphere of fear in certain neighborhoods,” he told me. “They are agents of control against black and brown men and they are not being used equally across the board.”
Doleac concedes that the databases reflect the racial biases that already exist in law enforcement, but suggested that it’s possible they could benefit these communities in the long run. “We don’t know for sure yet what the effects are by race or other demographic groups,” she said.
For the moment, however, this surveillance tool is fostering further mistrust between already marginalized communities and law enforcement. An apt comparison, Washington proposed, is stop and frisk, a policing method that was supposed to reduce crime but was used to target and intimidate African American and Latino men in New York and was ultimately found to be unconstitutional.
For Washington, at the root of this type of law enforcement strategy is the belief that empowering police with new techniques will fix crime, when in his experience, the most profound deterrence happens by empowering people within these communities. Indeed, the program that he directs at Rikers Island, which offers mentoring to young offenders from people of a similar background, has a significantly more powerful deterrence effect than DNA databases, reducing one-year felony reconviction by up to 69 percent.
“We try to prevent people from getting in trouble by getting to know them and getting them to trust us, and letting them know that they have someone,” he said. “It is about looking out for the people, not watching over the people, which is like the opposite of a mouth swab and putting someone in the system.”
Oscar Schwartz is a writer based in New York City. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic, and The Baffler.
This article originally featured on Undark.
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The best way to enjoy a national park, in my opinion, involves little more than a tent, hiking boots and a hydration pack — the only gadgetry I bring is a digital camera. This Luddite sensibility is not shared by many of my fellow park-goers, of course. As The New York Times reported this weekend, modern technology has gotten some national park visitors in trouble, meaning added work and added risk for rescue crews and park rangers.
With Labor Day approaching, it’s worth keeping in mind that technology, while great, cannot always save us. In national parks, it might actually make things worse.
Rather than come prepared, inexperienced hikers plan to rely on their gadgets — GPS devices, cellphones, what have you — to save them. They know they can use a cell phone to call for help, so they may take greater risks. And when they do seek rescue, they often take it to extremes: In one example, a lost hiker in Grand Teton National Park called for help, and asked her saviors to bring hot chocolate.
The Times recounts the incredible story of a man hiking in the Grand Canyon’s backcountry with two teenage sons. He pressed an emergency button on his personal GPS device, summoning a helicopter, but declined to board when it arrived because water was all he wanted — the canyon water “tasted salty,” he said.
Of course, technology can be a literal lifesaver. Three separate incidents in one park on one day this month highlight this fact. Aug. 11 was a busy day at Rocky Mountain, according to 9News in Denver:
At 9 a.m., someone used a cell phone to call for help from just below the summit of 14,255-foot Longs Peak, where a woman had injured her knee. Other climbers helped her down to the Boulder Field (around 12,760 feet), where a helicopter picked her up. Then, at noon, rangers were notified by satellite phone that a woman had fallen while hiking in the backcountry on the park’s west side. She was brought out by a horse. And finally, at 2:15, someone used a cell phone once again to call for help from a beginner-level lake trail, where a woman had fallen and broken an ankle.
Technology might have saved these hikers’ lives, or at the very least serious injury if they had been forced to hike out or spend the night in the mountains. Without cell phones, it’s likely that they would not have found help for several hours — a major problem if they were unprepared.
But that’s just it. People are increasingly relying on technology, rather than training and preparation, to cover their backs when they push themselves too far. An inexperienced hiker might be excited about his new handheld GPS, so he takes it into the backcountry, but forgets the essentials: Water, a compass and a map. (And, of course, warm clothing, food, etc.) Then what happens when his batteries run out?
Not to sound all Boy Scout-y, but it’s best to be prepared for any scenario, and to avoid depending on technology. It’s great that Americans are enjoying our national parks — July was a record month for visitors at Yellowstone, according to the Times — but here’s hoping our gadget-loving lifestyle doesn’t ruin the experience.
[ The New York Times]
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
I’m a big proponent of equipping as many mobile computers as possible with cellular connectivity. After all, what’s a laptop or tablet without the internet? While a handful of laptops — mostly enterprise-focused machines — do indeed offer LTE, the number isn’t nearly enough.
Lenovo takes things a step further with the Flex 5G, which is a convertible laptop that includes not only 4G LTE, but Verizon Wireless 5G.
Is it worth getting excited about a 5G laptop? Find out in the Android Authority Lenovo Flex 5G review.
Lenovo Flex 5
See price at Amazon
About this Lenovo Flex 5G review: We wrote this review after spending a week with the Flex 5G as our primary machine. Lenovo supplied the Flex 5G review unit to Android Authority.
What is the Lenovo Flex 5G?
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
The Lenovo Flex 5G is one of the first laptops to ship with an available 5G connection. Moreover, it’s one of a few to run a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx processor, which is based on Arm cores rather than Intel x86. These components lend an extra dash of mobility to an already-mobile form factor.
The 8cx and 5G modem are able to work together to deliver lightning-quick connectivity and incredible battery life in a truly flexible piece of hardware. But there’s a “gotcha” lurking under the hood that may slow you down.
Design and display: Modern mettle
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
The Flex 5G is Lenovo modernism at its most minimal. The Flex is a convertible. This means it has a 360-degree hinge that allows for it to be used as a laptop or a tablet, like Lenovo’s Yoga line. It’s made of dark gray aluminum and has a sharp front edge and a rounded rear edge. It’s slim and stylish — as long as you’re into low-key designs. I can’t say that it really stands out, but few business machines do.
While the top half is aluminum, the bottom half has a soft touch material that covers the magnesium and aluminum that frame out the chassis. Two long, rubber rails keep the laptop steadily in place on a table or desk.
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
The hinge is fairly typical for a convertible. It is strong and sturdy, and holds the lid at any angle. It can swing 360 degrees. This allows the device to sit as a laptop, stand as tent, or rest as a tablet. The form factor is a little awkward as a tablet, but that’s to be expected.
Thanks to the 14-inch display, the Flex 5G splits the difference in size. The Flex 5G weighs 1.3kg (2.9 pounds) and measures 320 x 215 x 14.7mm. It’s definitely larger than a 13-inch laptop would be, though is somewhat smaller than modern 15-inch machines.
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Speaking of the display, the 14-inch panel offers up Full HD resolution in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The bezels are slim, but I’ve seen slimmer. The IPS LCD features a glossy touch panel that is quickly marred with fingerprints. The glossy cover really messes with outdoor visibility, too, due to reflections. Still, the 400nit brightness and 72 color gamut ensure that it looks clean, precise, and bright when indoors.
The build quality is absolutely fine, but I’d expect a little more finesse in a laptop at this price point.
More reading: Best laptops you can buy
The power button and headphone/mic jack are on the right edge, as is a hardware airplane mode switch. I would have liked to see a memory card slot of some type.
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Last, Dolby Atmos-tuned stereo speakers frame out the keyboard. These speakers sound very good and offer enough volume to fill a small office or hotel room with sound.
See also: The best cheap laptops you can buyWhat I like about the Lenovo Flex 5G
Connectivity switch: The Flex 5G has a dedicated switch on the side for airplane mode. This makes it a breeze to turn off the laptop’s radios in a hurry — like when you’re about to take off. There’s a backup airplane mode button on the keyboard.
Search: There’s a dedicated Google search button. What’s not to like about that?
Settings: There’s a dedicated button to access the device settings. What’s not to like about that?
Fingerprint reader: This should be a mandatory feature on modern laptops. Heck, nearly every phone already has one.What I don’t like
Ports: Not enough. Granted, the two USB-C ports support power delivery and USB 3.2, but two isn’t enough. Moreover, they are placed right next to one another, which could complicate the use of docks or dongles.
Expandable storage: There isn’t any, which means no loading documents or files from a microSD or SD memory card.
Size: It could be a little trimmer and lighter, considering the portability focus of the machine.
Price: At $1,499, it feels overpriced, even considering the 5G connectivity.
App compatibility: The lack of support for 64-bit x86 apps will be a problem for some users
Lenovo Flex 5G review: Specs
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.”
Those were the words that Richard Nixon read on television in 1969 while breaking the terrible news to the nation that the Apollo 11 mission had failed and astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had perished while attempting the first lunar landing.
But only in an alternate reality. Nixon never had to utter those lines because Apollo 11 was a historic success, and Armstrong, Aldrin, and their pilot Michael Collins made it safely back to Earth. But a speech was prepared for then-President Nixon in case they did not. The short film In Event of Moon Disaster shows us how that scenario would have unfolded with an incredibly convincing deepfake of Nixon delivering the disastrous news.
[Related: 7 easy ways you can tell for yourself that the moon landing really happened]
A deepfake is a combination of “deep,” meaning deep learning, and “fake,” as in fabricated. Together it’s a label for an audio or video clip that uses artificial intelligence to portray a scenario that never really happened. Usually, that consists of a person saying or doing something they never did, often without the consent of those portrayed, says Halsey Burgund, one of the directors of In Event of Moon Disaster.
While deepfakes are a recent development, they build upon a long and established line of distorted media that still exists as low-tech, impactful misinformation today. Although deepfake technology is evolving quickly, there are efforts to slow its dissemination. And while there are many malicious uses of deepfakes, there are some beneficial applications in areas like human rights and accessibility. An ongoing exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City, Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen, explores these themes with In Event of Moon Disaster as its centerpiece.
In Event of Moon Disaster is a deepfake of Richard Nixon telling the nation that Apollo 11 failed.The difference between deepfakes and other misinformation
To make a deepfake of a person, creators have to train a computer by giving it lots of video, audio, or images of the “target,” the person whose image and voice you are trying to manipulate, and the “source,” the actor who is modeling the words or action you want the target to appear to say or do. To ace this, the computer uses a form of artificial neural networks, which are meant to function like a human brain trying to solve a problem by looking at evidence, finding patterns, and then applying that pattern to new information. Neural networks were first conceptualized in 1943, and can be used to do everything from writing a recipe to translating convoluted journal articles. Deep learning and deepfake creation involve many layers of neural networks, so much so that the computer can train and correct itself.
While deepfake technology might seem harmful in itself, it’s aided by how quickly social media users spread the information, often without pausing to question its source.
“Deepfakes as a production technology presents a lot of concern,” Barbara Miller, co-curator of the exhibit and deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Museum of the Moving Image, says. “I think it’s impossible to think about that concern without looking at the lightning speed that information circulates.”
But the effective spread of misinformation predates deepfakes and even social media. The exhibit showcases deepfakes in the context of the long history of “unstable nonfiction media,” Miller adds, so visitors aren’t left with the assumption that the rise of AI-driven manipulation is the source of all distrust in media.
“These are techniques that have always existed for as long as the media itself has existed,” Burgund says.
Using basic video editing skills, almost anyone can slice and dice footage to change the meaning or tone.
In the 1890s, the Edison Manufacturing Company was eager to flex the capabilities of motion pictures by capturing the Spanish-American War on camera. However, cameras in the 19th century were a whole lot clunkier than those today, making it difficult to film combat close up. So, the company scattered staged footage of American soldiers swiftly defeating enemy regiments among the real footage of marching soldiers and weaponry. The cuts stoked patriotism among American viewers, who weren’t told the difference between the real and fake scenes.
Even today, you do not need AI to create effective and impactful disinformation. “The tried and true methods of manipulation that have been used forever are still effective,” Burgund says. Even putting the wrong caption on a photo, without even editing the image, can create misinformation, he explains.
Take the 2023 presidential election, for example. In the months leading up to it, Miller says there was worry that deepfakes could throw a wrench in the democratic process. However, the technology didn’t really make a big splash during the election, at least when compared to cruder forms of manipulation that were able to spread misinformation successfully.
Using basic video editing skills, almost anyone can slice and dice footage to change the meaning or tone. These are called “cheapfakes” or “shallowfakes” (the spliced Spanish-American war videos were one of the earliest instances). The intro to In Event of Moon Disaster uses these techniques on archival footage to make it seem like Apollo 11 crashed. The directors interspersed footage of the lunar lander returning between quick cuts of the astronauts and set it to the soundtrack of accelerating beeping and static noises to create the anxiety-inducing illusion that the mission went awry. Because these techniques require minimal expertise and little more than a laptop, they are much more pervasive than deepfakes.
In fact, some of the most well-known videos that have been debated to be deepfakes are actually cheapfakes. In 2023 Rudolph Giuliani, then-President Donald Trump’s lawyer, tweeted a video of Nancy Pelosi in which she appeared to slur her words, leading some of her critics to assert that she was drunk. The video was found to have been edited and slowed down but did not use any deepfake technology.
Burgund and his co-director, Francesca Panetta, think that confirmation bias is really what aids the dissemination of deepfakes or cheapfakes, even when they’re clearly poorly made. “If the deepfake is portraying something that you want to believe, then it hardly has to look real at all,” Burgund says.Slowing the spread of deepfakes
While it currently requires some technical know-how to create a deepfake like Burgund and Panetta’s, Matthew Wright, the director of research for Rochester Institute of Technology’s Global Cybersecurity Institute and a professor of computing security, says the technology is quickly spreading to the masses, and there are already many deepfake apps and software.
“This is democratizing a potentially dangerous technology,” Wright says.
There are efforts to slow or counteract the spread of deepfakes, however. While the usual impulse among tech researchers is to share methods and tools with the public, Wright says some of the experts developing new deepfake technologies have vowed to keep their results more private. Additionally, there are projects such as the Content Authenticity Initiative, which is a consortium of companies and organizations like Adobe, Twitter, and the New York Times that aims to track the origins of media by watermarking them even if they are edited. This is not a perfect solution, Wright says, because there are ways to bypass those checks. Still, if every video coming out of the White House, say, was digitally watermarked, then it could slow or prevent their manipulation.
Wright is working on creating deepfake detection tools that could be used by journalists and regular internet users. (Microsoft launched a similar product in 2023.) Wright says he and his colleagues are very careful about not sharing all of the source code because it’s possible someone could create a deepfake to deceive these detectors if they had access to it. But if there’s a diversity of authenticators, there’s less of a chance of that happening.
“As long as multiple detection tools are actually being used against these videos, then I think overall our chances of catching [deepfakes] are pretty good,” Wright says.
The 2023 documentary Welcome to Chechnya used deepfake technology to mask the faces of its vulnerable subjects.The values of deepfake technology
You may have encountered the benefits of deepfakes in entertainment, like in the most recent Star Wars films, or in satire, like this Star Trek throwback with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk’s faces subbed in. However, the technology also has utility in human rights and disability accessibility.
The Museum of the Moving Image exhibit features clips from Welcome to Chechnya, an award-winning documentary by David France that uses deepfake technology to conceal the true faces of LGBTQ activists facing persecution in the Russian republic. This allows the viewer to see the emotion of the subjects while still protecting their identities.
The technology has also been used to improve accessibility for those who have lost their voice due to an illness, injury, or disability, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Burgund says. VocaliD, for instance, uses AI to recreate the user’s voice from old recordings for text-to-speech technology, or help them pick a voice that best fits their personality from a bank of options.
[Related: Deepfakes could help us relive history—or rewrite it]
While Panetta and Burgund want the viewers of their deepfake to interrogate the origins of the media they encounter, they don’t want the audience to be alarmed to the point of creating a zero-trust society.
“This is not about trying to scare people into not believing anything they see,” Panetta says, “because that is as problematic as the misinformation itself.”
Just like trust in media can be weaponized, distrust in media can be weaponized, too.
As the exhibit points out, even the theoretical existence of deepfakes results in a “liar’s dividend,” where one can insinuate a real video is a deepfake to sow seeds of doubt.
In 2023, Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba gave a New Year’s address after suffering a stroke and being out of the public eye as a result. His political rivals said that he looked unnatural and pushed the idea that the video was a deepfake. While experts agreed the video seemed off, no one could say for sure it was a deepfake or not, with some attributing the peculiarity of Bongo’s appearance to his poor health. A week later, citing the oddness of the video, his opponents attempted a coup but were unsuccessful.
Wright says that he and his colleagues have started to see more of these cry-wolf situations in the political sphere than actual deepfakes circulating and causing damage. “There can be deepfakes, but they’re not that commonly used,” he says. “What you need to do is understand the source.”
For anyone who’s inundated with information while scrolling through social media and the news, it’s important to pause and question, “how did this information reach me? Who is disseminating this? And can I trust this source?” Doing that can determine whether a deepfake (or cheapfake) becomes potent misinformation or just another video on the internet.
Deepfake: Unstable Evidence on Screen will be on display at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York through May 15, 2023.
Elon Musk and other prominent Silicon Valley kooks may hold the belief that we live in a simulation, but one conspiracy theorist speaking at the Flat Earth Convention in England last weekend articulated an even stranger theory about our home, the Earth: the ‘Pac-Man effect.’
Flat Earth belief is what it sounds like, but there is some nuance: though Flat Earthers avowedly don’t trust scientists and generally think NASA is a giant conspiracy, their central tool for refuting the Earth’s roundness is basically aligned with the scientific method. After all, from the perspective of any one individual, the Earth does appear to be flat. Some observable phenomena line up with this basic perception, but others—like east-west plane flight, which shouldn’t be possible if the Earth was a disk, or a diamond, or any other flat shape considered by Flat Earthers—do not. This conflict has led many in the Flat Earth community to come up with conceptual write-arounds to explain the presence of these phenomena that don’t fit in their world-view. Here are a few of their theories—and why they don’t line up with what we know.Pac-Man Effect
According to Darren Nesbit, a speaker at the convention, this “effect” (think ‘Mandela effect‘) explains why planes seem to fly east or west around the Earth with no observable change of direction. It also answers the age-old question of why Renaissance sailors never sailed off the side of the Earth, though the idea that they expected to is a modern one. They also knew that the Earth was round, though map-makers of the time underestimated its size.
In Nesbitt’s thinking, when a plane flying east (for example) reaches the edge of the Earth, it disappears and reappears at a corresponding coordinate at the western edge–just like in Pac-Man. The reason, he told convention-goers, according to The Age’s Wil Crisp: “space-time wraps around.”
Nesbitt might be thinking of something related to general relativity, the curvature of space-time, which is an accepted part of scientific thought. But if you’re ever in an airplane and you hear that characteristic “waka-waka-waka,” it’s just the engine.
If this or another other Flat Earth theory were true, says volcanologist Janine Krippner, “a lot of scientists would have been very excited about it.” But the same basic scientific tool that Flat Earthers are committed to using—observation—applied to the volcanoes she studies clearly demonstrates that the Earth has to be a rough sphere. On a flat surface,it wouldn’t be possible for the Earth’s plates to constantly rub against each other, causing volcanoes to form. They’d just slowly push away from one another or float in place.
“It’s good that people are questioning what they read,” Krippner says. But it’s when skepticism deteriorates into dogmatic distrust of all science that it becomes a problem, she says.Other ideas floated at the convention
Nesbit’s idea might have the catchiest name, but it was only one of many ideas presented. Another relied on smartphone app tracking of the moon cycle. David Marsh, an administrator within the British health system, claims his research “destroys Big Bang cosmology,” according to Crisp, and demonstrates that electromagnetism is the only force in the universe.
Beliefs like these ignore numerous observable physical processes that wouldn’t be possible on a flat world, Krippner says. From weather to currents in the ocean and the movement of the tectonic plates that she studies, there’s a lot there. Understanding it just takes a little more than standing outside and staring at the seemingly flat horizon.
Still, Krippner says she doesn’t want to mock anyone’s beliefs. It’s important to understand that scientists are “just people,” she says. Many, including herself, got into it because they believe the things they study can benefit humanity.
“A very important part of science is disagreeing with each other,” she says. In that instinct, Flat Earthers are right on the mark. It’s just the fruits of that disagreement—the working toward a demonstrable scientific consensus—that could use a little work.
Need more evidence that the world is (roughly) round? We’ve got you covered.
Using DNA language models, it is simple to spot statistical trends in DNA sequences
Large language models (LLMs) are trained on a vast quantity of data and learn from statistical relationships between letters and words to anticipate what follows next in a phrase. For instance, the popular generative AI program ChatGPT’s LLM, GPT-4, is trained on many petabytes (several million gigabytes) of text.
By spotting statistical patterns in DNA sequences, biologists are using the power of these LLMs to reveal fresh insight into genetics. Similar to nucleotide language models, DNA language models are trained on a large number of DNA sequences.
The phrase “the language of life” as it relates to DNA is frequently used. A genome is a collection of DNA sequences that make up an organism’s genetic makeup. In contrast to written languages, the only letters in DNA are A, C, G, and T, which stand for the nucleoside adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. Even though this genetic language appears straightforward, its grammar is still a mystery to us. DNA language models can help us better grasp genomic grammar one rule at a time.Versatile Prediction
The capacity of ChatGPT to handle various jobs, from creating poetry to copy-editing an essay, gives it incredible strength. Models of DNA language are also flexible. Their uses include estimating the functions of various genomic regions and the interactions between multiple genes. Language models may also enable new analysis techniques by inferring genome properties from DNA sequences without requiring “reference genomes.”
For instance, a computer trained on the human genome was able to forecast the locations on RNA where proteins are most likely to interact. The “gene expression” process requires this interaction—transforming DNA into proteins. The amount of RNA translated into proteins is constrained by the binding of specific proteins to RNA. These proteins are thought to mediate gene expression in this manner. Because the form of the RNA is essential to these interactions, the model had to be able to predict where in the genome these interactions would occur and how the RNA would fold.
The ability of DNA language models to generate novel mutations in genomic sequences also enables researchers to forecast how these changes may occur. For instance, researchers used a language model at the genome size to forecast and retrace the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.Distant Genomic Action
Biologists have recently realized that portions of the genome that were once thought of as “junk DNA” interact with other parts of the genome unexpectedly. A quick way to discover more about these concealed interactions is by using DNA language models. Language models can find relationships between genes in distant genome regions by spotting patterns over lengthy spans of DNA sequences.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, offer a DNA language model with the capacity to learn the impacts of genome-wide variants in a recent preprint published on bioRxiv. These variations, single-letter alterations in the genome that cause illnesses or other physiological effects, are typically only discovered through pricy research investigations called genome-wide association studies.
It was trained using the genomes of seven species of plants from the mustard family and is known as the Genomic Pre-trained Network (GPN). Not only can GPN be modified to identify genome variations for any species, but it can also accurately name the various components of these mustard genomes.
Researchers created a DNA language model that could recognize gene-gene interactions from single-cell data in work just published in Nature Machine Intelligence. Understanding how genes interact at the single-cell level will provide fresh insights into illnesses with intricate pathways. This enables researchers to link genetic variables that drive disease development to variances between specific cells.Hallucination into Creativity
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