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August 23, 2017

Trump's "Pee Tape": The First One Probably Won't Be Real

TL;DR: It would be easy to fake a Trump/Russia "pee tape." If one shows up, there's a very high likelihood it's a forgery meant to undermine the validity of the investigation of Trump when it's shown to be a fake.


What happens when you mix motivated reasoning and advanced computer graphics? You get a fake "pee tape" used as a way to undermine Trump critics and investigators.

As we read more claims of confirmation of elements of the so-called "Steele Dossier," the more likely it seems for many that the most salacious part of the Dossier, that Trump had prostitutes urinated on the bed upon which Obama had stayed at a swank Moscow hotel, would turn out to be true, too. Since the Dossier intimates that video recordings of this must exist, millions around the world await with barely-constrained glee the release of the "pee tape" (or "pee pee tape" or "piss tape"). Such a video recording would certainly bring down the Presidency, wouldn't it?

If such a video exists, it would likely end up in the hands of the Robert Mueller investigation. Whether or not it would eventually end up on YouTube isn't certain; if (as some of the flying rumors suggest) the prostitutes are minors, federal law would prohibit the tape being shown, period. Nonetheless, the existence of such a recording would help to buttress the array of accusations made by the Steele Dossier, many of which are far more criminal than prostitution or minor vandalism of a hotel room.

But the reverse is also (likely) true: if the "pee tape" were shown to be a forgery, then clearly the other elements of the Steele Dossier -- and quite possibly the larger array of accusations -- must be false as well.

You may remember the accusation that George W. Bush had escaped service in Viet Nam by running off to the Texas Air National Guard, helped by family connections. There's actually evidence that this is true, but all of that evidence has been overwhelmed by the (now known to be forged) documents that Dan Rather and the CBS Evening News put forward as air-tight proof that Bush cheated his way into avoiding combat. When the "Killian Documents" turned out to be fake, the argument against Bush fell apart, regardless of the veracity of other evidence. In short, one highly visible forgery, shown to be a forgery, was enough to undermine the larger body of evidence of a crime/cover-up.

We now live in an era where it's become unsettlingly easy to make believable digital simulations of people, both images and voices. See the "Face 2 Face" work from 2016, and the start-up Lyrebird, for two easy examples.

So imagine that a "pee tape" appears out of nowhere, clearly showing Trump with prostitutes urinating upon a hotel bed, then starting to engage in sexual activity. There's a very high likelihood, in my view, that the tape will be a fake, and that the revelation of the forgery would take place at an ideal time to fatally undermine the larger criminal investigation of Trump's Russia dealings.

One of the fundamental lessons of the emerging era of documented unreality is that nothing recorded with a single camera should be trusted. Such recordings can already be spoofed, and over the next few years will become ridiculously simple to fabricate. Like, "there's an App for that" level of simplicity.

If a Trump "pee tape" shows up, be highly skeptical. Frankly, if it shows up anywhere but directly from the Mueller investigation, it's almost certainly a fake. Don't fall for the bait.

December 11, 2012

AI Yes, Zombies No

I spoke with Adam Bluestein of Inc. for about an hour a few weeks ago on a wide array of topics. The resulting article is now out: three questions. Ah, media.

Here's the last question. Of the three, it has the most interesting reply (IMO):

You've done some work in the gaming and entertainment industries. What developments are you tracking there?
The advances in artificial intelligence in gaming--with nonplayer characters behaving more and more like humans--are just incredible. Any real breakthrough in AI is going to come from gaming. In entertainment, zombies are so played out. I have a gut sense that people are getting tired of apocalyptic scenarios. I expect we'll see more TV and movies, like Star Trek, that show a world that actually looks like a good place to live.

Note that this conversation took place before the release of the trailer for the latest Star Trek movie, which appears to include lots of grim destruction of Earth cities. Again, I say: ah, media.

January 17, 2012

The Future Isn't What It Used to Be (TL;DR version)

Technology foresight has been stuck for the last 10-20 years; we need to be paying more attention to social-cultural futurism.

April 1, 2009

We're Doomed

Yep. Sorry to have to say it, but there's really no way around it.

We're doomed. Hosed. Pining for the fjords.

We have maybe a decade or two before things really go to hell, but, honestly, it's going to get pretty bad much sooner than that. Yeah, this may sound hopeless, but who can be optimistic in a time like this?

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(For those of you reading this via RSS: the main page banner has been changed to reflect this new clarity. I may get around to updating the individual item pages, but it's frankly hard to even find the motivation now.)