Futurism, AI, and Deepfakes: Dystopia or Utopia Ahead?

Photo by Aaron Rogosin

For the average person, many know "deepfakes" to be videos that go viral on social media, infamously spreading misinformation. But did you know that deepfakes can also be used to create video footage of speeches from prominent historical figures that passed before their time or other more positive examples? How about all the ways that automation and AI have slowly been moving into our everyday lives, streamlining processes and easing tasks with machine learning? A futurist would.

Futurism is more than just a 20th century Italian art movement. In 2020, futurists are looking ahead and predicting how technology, our lives, and our world will change – either for the good or bad. In response to the growth of this field, we've added a new track to the SXSW Conference to foster these conversations and to facilitate the exchange of these ideas and we're calling it the Fantastic Future Track.

Thanks to science fiction, past and present, these real-world ideas – like AI, machine learning, and automation – trigger certain fear responses from those who don't know anything about them outside of these sensationalized imaginings of what this tech can look like. In today's world, futurists, scientists, and technologists have harnessed these advancements and are pushing the boundaries of what they are capable of. The question is: are these breakthroughs going to lead to the utopia that we all desire in a future world or are they going to lead to the dystopic future science fiction promises us is on the horizon once we integrate tech into our lives past the point of no return?

Yesterday's Fictions are Today's Realities

The problem with "futurism" is that by nature of the job, one can spend all their time ignoring existing problems around them and only live in a forthcoming fiction. How do we talk about the future in a responsible way, keeping it focused on outcomes rather than outputs? During A Better Futurism: Turning Fiction into Fact, join Jared Ficklin (Argodesign) and Georgia Frances King (Quartz) for a lively, interactive discussion on their very different takes on how to talk about the future, how to blend storytelling with futurism, and how to turn these fictions into realities.

America will be coming to a crossroads during the coming decade due to the sweeping adoption of everyday artificial intelligence and automation. Whether this portends social turmoil and the end of hyper-connected capitalism as we know it or opens doors to a humane technology-driven period of social enlightenment will depend on how well we can visualize the possible futures — and pitfalls — ahead. AI Visualized: Prepping For The Robot Revolution will bring together August Cole (SparkCognition), Amir Husain (SparkCognition), Heather Roff (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab), and Peter Singer (New America Foundation) to tour possible tomorrows.

Can AI Be Better At Being Us Than We Are?

We all seen how deepfakes can be used for malicious reasons – but what if we used the same technology for more positive applications like creativity, borderless language, or even eternal life? We're seeing more instances of this tech being leveraged in this way like when two artists who created the deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg to warn us about Facebook's omnipotent power, or Nvidia’s AI model that can take video of the real world and use it to generate a realistic and interactive virtual world. In Deepfake Art and the Bright Side of the Dark Web, Dr. Fakenstein (Dr. Fakenstein), Victor Riparbelli (Synthesia), and Rohit Thawani (Media Arts Lab) discuss what living our lives in tandem with digital doppelgangers might mean for our future.

Marco Marchesi (Happy Finish) and Alesandra Miro-Quesada (Happy Finish) are giving over their phone data, vlog entries, and social media info to an AI in an experiment that will see them create their own AI clones and explore ideas of self in the age of machine learning and big data. From the collection of their personal data, the AI will generate a visual and conversational artificial representation of themselves. They will present their process, reveal results, and introduce their AI clones in Me, Myself & AI: An Experiment in Digital Cloning. They’ll host a conversation between them and their Version 2.0s to see how similar their views are. Audience participation is encouraged — attendees can pose questions to both them and their AI counterparts to see if they answer in the same way. Will the AI clones be better versions of them?

In 2014, Keren Toledano (Think Company) gave a Markov Bot, coded by HackPrinceton, access to all of her Facebook content since 2005, and it created speech that mimicked her own voice. The bot worked by choosing a random word from inputs, then generated a response by choosing another word that was identified as a successor to the previous one. She submitted the bot-written poetry for publication and was published, leading to the fundamental question — who was the author? AI poses challenges to authorship as we conceive of it today. Join her in Outsourcing Creativity: Authors, Artists, and AI to discuss what creation looks like when it is supplemented by automation.

Browse More Fantastic Future Sessions

For more on AI and other topics like quantum computing, the next generation of touchless interfaces, and other ideas just on the horizon that preview what life will be like in the next few decades, we invite you to explore more sessions in the Fantastic Future Track. This Interactive Track gives primary access to Platinum and Interactive Badges while Film and Music Badges enjoy secondary access.

Across our 22 tracks of Conference programming, browse all sessions on the SXSW Schedule and add events to your Favorites list to start planning your SX adventure.

Browse Fantastic Future Sessions

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By Nicole Cappabianca