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THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Manipulation



One of the consequences of a world that remains connected 24 hours a day is that everybody has the capability to learn something about anything, including anybody else’s opinions about anything and everything. They called it an information revolution.


That sounds like a form of human liberation that could only have been dreamed of by our ancestors - the ultimate freedom of speech.


However, few, if any, of our forebears could have envisaged a world in which information travelled without limits - but we couldn't trust it any more.


The media furore over the "altered images" of The Princess of Wales and her children are but the thin end of a much thicker wedge when it comes to manipulation.


I'm currently enjoying the TV series "For all Mankind" (courtesy of Apple TV) for the uninitiated, an alternative history of the Space Race, in which the Russians get to the moon first, and a full land-grab for the moon and Mars follow.


No plot spoilers given here (and none required as I'm working my way through Season 3 of 4) but suffice to say that the trajectories of well known characters from world history are changed in ways that support the plot - Lennon survives his assassination attempt, whilst Thatcher is murdered in Brighton by the IRA, to name but many twists and turns (sorry Tories).


Real characters from the last 50 years, world leaders, entertainers, news readers and many more are brought back to the screen and their faces are manipulated by AI to mouth the words that the script requires them to say. It is disturbingly convincing.


Which leads us to realise that the same can be done in any context, not just for an award-winning TV series.


Now, even the Royals have to admit to tampering with reality. More than showcasing their best lives (as we all do), they are also artificially representing that best as better.


Who can we trust anymore?


Answer - nobody - very sad and ominous.


It actually goes deeper than clever video and Photoshop though.


We are bombarded by manipulators who want us to spend, vote, worship and work according to their economic, philosophical, spiritual or technological shepherding.


Cue my greater concern when I see the degree to which we are carrying around with us the very devices the manipulators need us to use in order to digest their subtle untruths.


It's as if the drug dealers have made the needles and syringes a fashion accessory.


Ride a bus, train, tram or Tube and just take a look around you - the doom scroll has become an embedded habit in many.


Even when I eat my dinner in a business hotel, I see the familiar hunched shoulders of my fellow diners as they fork food and stare at their smartphones, using a spare thumb to "scroll down".


And allow me one more cliched story - a couple of weeks ago we set out on an unsuccessful Saturday search for a side table that would look suitable in our new living room.


Since then - no table - and nothing but side table adverts whenever I open an online newspaper or social media channel. I've been targeted by the bots - and they are not letting up on me.


We all had fun a few months ago, writing blog posts on oral healthcare in the style of William Shakespeare when the first wave of ChatGPT mania swept across our devices.


It was short-lived phenomenon - maybe Kate Middleton will start a new wave of fictitious family Instagram posts until the "next big novelty" comes along.


As we approach a year of Elections, in a political climate in which new definitions of "extremism" are being touted by those in power who would have us surrender our freedoms - just be careful what you believe and the evidence upon which opinions are based.


You might want to think about reading instead of watching - watching can't be trusted anymore.


At least with reading, there's a reasonable chance that it's the truth or a bare-faced lie.








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