Brett Kavanaugh has regrets*

*These are deepfake videos. Could they inspire influential figures like Kavanaugh, Mark Zuckerberg, and Alex Jones to have public reckonings?

Happy weekend from The.Ink!

We have something strange and special for you today — the first airing of videos of three deplored men…taking responsibility.

But first: These posts are open to all. Yet to quote Austin Kleon, "This newsletter is free, but not cheap." If you want to support The.Ink’s work, consider become a paid subscriber. Your support is what makes my interviews and other posts possible, paying for the research and editing support, transcription, and all the other things it takes — and will help us expand! Subscribers are also able to join weekly video conversations with me that have been convivial, civil, thought-provoking — a balm in these times.

Deep Reckonings

In a remarkable turn of events, videos have emerged of three of America’s most loathed men all publicly reckoning with their failures. And we have them for you first here at The.Ink.

Watch Brett Kavanaugh wrestle with how he responded to sexual-assault allegations:

Watch Mark Zuckerberg finally own up to the pitfalls of his techno-utopianism here:

Watch Alex Jones grapple with his advocacy of conspiracy theories:

The only problem is, these videos are — as they clearly state — fakes.

Deepfakes.

Today The.Ink is sharing, for the first time anywhere, a brilliant, terrifying, inspiring new project by the artist Stephanie Lepp.

Lepp explains on the project’s website that “deepfakes” are “a type of synthetic media that have been manipulated with the AI technique of deep learning — hence the term is a combination of deep learning and fake. Shallowfakes and cheapfakes use basic editing techniques like changing speed or removing frames, whereas deepfakes use deep learning to generate entirely new visual content.”

We are just at the beginning of the deepfakes revolution, but the smart people in technology warn of a frightening new world in which, as Lepp puts it, “it’s getting easier, cheaper, and faster to make it sound and look like people are saying and doing things they never said or did.”

But here’s what I love about Lepp’s project. The most visible uses of deepfakes thus far have been for ill — making House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear drunk or having Mark Zuckerberg give a speech about power that he never, in fact, gave. So Lepp asked the question: What is the “prosocial” potential of deepfakes? Is it possible to make a socially responsible, constructive deepfake?

And her answer resonated with me deeply

Where I see the greatest untapped potential for prosocial synthetic media is…to envision and elicit the change we wish to see. We see this capacity in the possibility of using synthetic media to envision more skilled obstetricians and midwives, more sober versions of ourselves, and more morally courageous versions of our public figures.

Lepp wondered if she could make deepfakes that would declare up front that they were fake and yet aspire to change people. She wanted us to “to deepfake it ’til we make it.”

Thus these three videos of “reckonings” were born. Lepp decided to deepfake the kind of honest public grappling that Zuckerberg, Kavanaugh, and Jones will probably never be capable of. But what if they were? What if all of us were capable of such courage?

Lepp writes, “The project seeks not to deceive nor demean, but to imagine and inspire…Deep Reckonings explores the question: how might we use our synthetic selves to elicit our better angels?”

I will leave you with her rousing words, which you should read in full:

My job as an artist is to make an alternative playbook that's more beautiful and powerful than the original. My job is to make a playbook that would move Zuckerberg, Kavanaugh, and Jones, along with Louis CK, Ted Yoho, and others to say: "that is the me I want to be." The purpose of this new playbook is to make critical self-reflection look stunning — so that we are moved to do it, and our public figures are moved to do it, and we make room for each other to do it. Especially because we live so much of our lives in public, and our public sphere can be so unforgiving, we need more room to be wrong, learn, change, redeem ourselves, and ultimately grow….in public.

The Deep Reckonings project can be found here: http://www.deepreckonings.com


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