Is ‘synthetic media’ the right name for media that is made to manipulate

Spent last week digging into what is being called ‘synthetic media’. I attended (the always amazing) NYC Media Lab 18 which had a panel ‘Great Synthetic Media Debate’ that discussed dynamics of this type of media, and a talk ‘Deepfakes and Other AI-Generate Synthetic Media: What Should We Fear? What Can We Do?’ by Sam Gregory from WITNESS which was significant in scope and implications.

‘synthetic media’ is being defined as  “algorithmically created or modified media ”   

This subject has been in the news because of deepfakes.

Deepfake, a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake”,[1] is an artificial intelligence-based human image synthesis technique. It is used to combine and superimpose existing images and videos onto source images or videos.  

The name ‘deepfake’ implies something not real, approaching it with discern is inferred in its name.  This is good.  The term ‘synthetic media’ fails at conveying meaning, intent and does not serve to warn the receptor.

The word ‘Synthetic’ implies something that is man-made, to be exact…

(of a substance) made by chemical synthesis, especially to imitate a natural product.

This is something made from computational algorithms, that might be splitting hairs for some, but where we really fall short is divorcing it from intent.   This is not only man made – it’s made to manipulate.  

A media whose primary focus is to deceive to receiver, be it in art or politics.   

This post is not about the ethical implications of this medium.  I want to stay focused on foundational lexicon while we still can.  

‘manipulated media’ more clearly states the goal of the AI.  

A media that is disembodied  from context (intent) and providence.  Context and providence are critical interpretation tools. We should name it for what it is, since what it does negates the basic rule of seeing is believing.  

It is important to use an accurate descriptor, it is dangerous not to.

As we weigh in on plus and minuses of this type of media the early tl/dr is –  we are doing ourselves a disservice by not correctly naming it for what it is. Be it manipulated or some other term that more clearly states providence, context and intent.

(this is the first in a series on this subject: ….’Ripe receptors in manipulated media swarms, architected to move men to action.’)