It will soon become incredibly difficult to know for sure what is real and what is fake.
We are already seeing more maliciously generated content online, especially around major events such as elections or periods of social unrest. While political disinformation is by no means a new problem, it can be scaled dramatically with artificial intelligence (AI) tools – as well as personalized to an extent not previously possible.
Not just imagine fake videos of real politicians speaking, but fake videos of completely fake politicians spewing fake quotes targeting the beliefs of a particular audience or even the opinion of a single person. This is already possible with powerful LLMs like ChatGPT and Bard, and it can get out of hand faster than we think.
Large Language Models (LLMs) can quickly gain major influence because they are language-based, like most of our society – from media and communications to politics, to law – making it more difficult to detect what information is real or generated.
In the very near future, one of the biggest negative consequences of powerful AI models is this inevitable explosion of generated content and fake news – and the best way to manage this is with blockchains.
By introducing blockchain-based “sign-and-trace” content authentication systems to major media outlets, we can reliably find and validate real news stories as they are published, leaving a legitimate trail of sources that can be tracked online.
It’s not all bad
To be clear, I’m essentially an AI optimist.
Before founding NEAR Protocol, I worked as an AI researcher for ten years, mainly at Google. I also co-authored the groundbreaking AI paper “Attention Is All You Need,” which introduced transformers, the model architecture that powers the LLMs in the news today. I am well aware of both the amazing potential and the risks that current LLMs pose to society.
I also strongly believe that AI and Web3 can complement each other, and that blockchains and Web3 communities are a good fit for addressing the current systemic challenges that LLMs are helping to exploit. The Web3 solutions I propose will be more effective than old-fashioned Big Tech regulation, which is neither practical nor possible at this point.
We can introduce provenance tracking around a piece of content – an article, a quote, or even an image or video – when it’s created and every time users interact with it: hence sign-and-trace.
Content authentication systems are well suited to run on blockchains for a few simple reasons: they can be linked to a permanent digital identity, there is an on-chain immutable record of every action or transaction that cannot be changed later, and they can are connected to a governance structure and a set of rules that must be followed to interact with the system.
Read more in our opinion section: TV is dying, but decentralization is the cure
This type of system – using cryptographic signatures to verify content – makes it easier to trace where information comes from, as well as who is using that information and how they are using it. Sign-and-trace also makes it possible to clearly see which information online has been mislabeled or misattributed.
Whenever someone refers to content within this system, it is recorded and monitored in a tamper-resistant manner: this creates an immutable record of every interaction that is visible to all. These interactions can be linked to digital identities that can build a reputation over time, so people know which sources are reliable and verified.
Because these records would be open source and transparent, the burden of controlling and monitoring content could be spread across different communities with greater diversity of opinion. Placing this monitoring and authentication work in an open marketplace – which blockchains are perhaps better at than anything else – would boost our collective ability to tackle this important, but likely overwhelming, mission.
Combating disinformation and fake content is a clear example of the kind of problem Web3 can best solve: open and global by nature, transparent yet verifiable, and proactively managed by a community free of partisan bias.
Blockchain-based content management and media sign-and-trace systems are necessary: we need to get to grips with what is really online and keep it that way, because soon it will be too late.
Illia Polosukhin is the co-founder of NEAR Protocol, a decentralized development platform powered by a sharded smart contract blockchain. NEAR’s vision of a scalable, robust and highly usable blockchain started in 2018 when they couldn’t find a protocol that met the needs of builders. NEAR Protocol launched its mainnet in 2020 and aims to scale to global mainstream adoption. Illia has over 10 years of industry experience, including 3 years at Google Research where he was a key TensorFlow contributor and managed the team building question-answer capabilities for Google’s core search, as well as an author of several notable research papers , including “Attention Is All You Need.” Illia has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, TIME, Wired, New York Magazine, Forbes, and TechCrunch.
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