How deepfakes erode trust

What Christians can do when reality is distorted

July 1, 2019

One of the most powerful and frightening developments in technology as of late is the deepfake. From government leaders grasping how to handle these fake videos to corporations like Facebook seeking to minimize their distribution online through content moderation, deepfakes are beginning to take hold in our society, and not for good. Well-known leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg have already fallen prey to these fake videos, and many more are on the horizon. As we enter into the 2020 presidential election cycle, deepfakes will continue to gain an outsized role in the news we see, ultimately affecting what we believe. So, what are we to do about them as a society?

As I have previously written, deepfakes are simply fake videos produced using highly advanced artificial intelligence (AI) to create extremely realistic and potentially dangerous pieces of content. Deepfake technology has become a hot topic in our communities because of how it can misrepresent reality. This technology is not new though. For example, versions of it have been used for years to create celebrity pornography videos. Face swapping can give the illusion that our dreams are reality by taking the face of one person and placing it on another’s body. Pornography has helped propel these technologies into the mainstream and fostered further innovation.

But just as pornography sells us a cheap and distorted version of reality, deepfakes can present the world as some want it to be rather than as it is. The deepfake disillusion can not only harm how we view ourselves and those around us, but can also cause us to question some of the most basic aspects of what is true in our divided world. The aim of a deepfake is to present an alternate reality and sow discord in our society.

Erosion of trust

With the rise of mass information distribution tools like the internet and social media over the last decade, it has become harder to trust what we see and hear. Anyone with low-cost video-doctoring tools and internet access can create and share deepfake videos. Distribution to the masses has ushered in great benefits for society with things like Bibles, books, and education. But for all of these benefits, there has been a weakening of what we see as truth.

In the digital age, deepfakes can weaken our trust in traditional media forms like video and audio. Without confidence in what our eyes see and ears hear, we become naturally fearful and overwhelmed; it’s hard to know what is real. Rene Descartes faced a similar disillusionment with knowledge and trust in his Discourse on Method. After doubting everything he could know from his senses, he concluded that only the internal self could be trusted: “I think therefore I am.” From this, he began to build out to other beliefs about the external world. Christians, however, don’t look inward for truth and reality, even in a deefake age. We must look outside of ourselves to a transcendent reality, one that is not based on popular opinion or the latest doctored videos. Our notion of the real, true, and beautiful comes from God himself through his Word.

Hope for reality

In our culture of deepfakes and the erosion of trust, it can be overwhelming to know what is real. Christ tells us, though, not to be anxious about our life because our anxiety will not add a single hour to our lives (Matt. 6:25,27) This is not just a recognition of our creaturely status, but also a reminder of the power and truth of God. God is the arbiter of truth (John 14:6-7) and knows all things (Psa. 147:5).

A simple way that we can seek to combat the misuse and abuse of deepfake technology is to educate ourselves about it and how it can be used to distort reality in our society. In a culture of instant online reactions, learning to simply pause and reflect before responding to something we see online can minimize the impact of these videos. Often our knee-jerk reaction is to share or comment on things without verifying that they are real. We might not have needed to be as vigilant in the past, but with deepfakes and other technological innovations, what we see can’t be taken at face value.

Some argue for federal legislation to mandate that these fake videos are labeled or to introduce harsh punishments for their creation and distribution. But even with these types of changes, misinformation and deepfakes will likely slip through the safety net. As Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor, said before the House Intelligence Committee in June about deepfakes, “just as schools a decade ago had to teach children not to take everything they find in a Google search or on a Wikipedia page as fact, the same lessons apply today to deepfakes.” Education is the key to combating the spread and potential damage that deepfakes might inflict on society. The more we know about how they can be used, the better we can prepare ourselves and our families to deal with their reality.

As we begin to question everything we see and hear, Christians can hold fast to the truth that it is God who will make sure that truth prevails, no matter how realistic any deepfake becomes. These fake videos will become increasingly more realistic and will be used to spread misinformation in our confused culture. But by preparing well, we can combat the effect of these videos in our communities.

Many will seek to cause disruption and confusion through the proliferation of deepfakes and misinformation during this election season. Let’s seek truth as God’s people and trust that the real truth will be revealed in due time, even if true justice is ultimately served on Judgement Day. Christians can be the ones that calmly wait in hope, being quick to listen and slow to comment (James 1:19).

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24