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The Reality Gap

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Sometime in the mid-1990s I discovered the difference between a premise and a plot.

The premise of the brilliant science fiction novel I planned to write was that what we now call augmented reality glasses had become popular, and cybervandals figured out how to plant what we now might call real-time deep fakes onto them.

In the first chapter an innocuous accounting clerk, having breakfast in a diner, is killed by an augmented-glasses-wearing vigilante who sees, via deep fake, the clerk pulling out a Glock, preparing to shoot everyone in the diner. A wave of similar crimes ensues.

The novel’s protagonists – Detectives Frederick Baltimore and Richmond Alexandria (named after two highway signs near Tyson’s Corner, VA, which at the time I thought was clever) – were charged with figuring out what was going on.

This was the premise, but at best all I had was the barest sketch of a plot.

Welcome to Meta, nee facebook, which wants us all to spend most of our lives in its “meta-verse.” It owns Oculus, the world’s most popular VR platform, along with most of the world’s social media audiences. And, it stands accused of not caring in the slightest whether the “information” it distributes to its audience bears any resemblance to actual reality.

Maybe it’s time for me to dust off the premise.

I’m also thinking it’s time for the world’s reputable fact-checking services to incorporate machine-learning AIs into their methodologies in order to scale their work to keep up with Meta’s reality-neutral content dissemination.

But mostly I’m thinking it’s time to make Frederick Pohl’s classic The Age of the Pussyfoot required reading for policymakers concerned with the various gaps we have in our society.

I don’t mean to minimize the significance of the wealth, income, and education gaps that are matters of immediate and serious concern.

But if Mark Zuckerberg succeeds in making his vision real, most people will spend most of their lives in a world that excludes the poor and disadvantaged from the augmented capabilities most of us will have at our disposal.

Call it the reality gap, and its leading edge is already upon us.

I’m not meaning to demonize either Zuckerberg or Meta (assuming the two are separable), or even Kellyanne Conway and her reality-gapped world of alternative facts. The leading edge has nothing to do with any of them.

The leading edge is the smartphone – the portable gateway to all the capabilities the Internet makes available. Those who can afford them are better communicators, more knowledgeable, and have superior access to potentially life-saving resources than those who can’t.

Awhile back I suggested the technique of asking questions backward, using as an example asking what the privileges of wealth should be rather than what our obligations to the poor are.

It isn’t too early to ask whether affluence should be allowed to become the prerequisite to participating in a society that’s increasingly virtual.

The Buried Lede: It’s also worth asking whether corporate information security departments have a role to play in all this. After all, most intrusions these days are the result of phishing attacks and related forms of social engineering. And phishing attacks are a form of disinformation.

On top of which, employees routinely use Google or facebook to look for information they need about one thing or another, which means the quality of day-to-day business decisions is affected by if and how well the organizations they work in are able to protect them from the misinformation, disinformation, and outright falsification they’re exposed to.

Sounds like an information security responsibility to me. Or else we need a new C-suite member – the Chief Reality Officer.

Bob’s last word: We have a word … malware … to cover all the various forms of attack bad actors make use of. We need but don’t have a single word that covers all the various forms of deceptive content.

I propose we call it malinfo. Use it three times and it will become part of your day-to-day vocabulary.

Bob’s sales pitch: My “IT 101” series continues on CIO.com with publication of the third and last article about technical architecture – “The secret art of technical architecture improvement.”

In case you missed them, the first two were, “Technical architecture: What IT does for a living,” and “Evaluating technical architecture: 11 key criteria and how to apply them.” I think you’ll find them both practical and useful. Whether or not you do, please let me know what you think of them.

Comments (5)

  • So now “Neuromancer” is upon us — except the smartphone and internet access are the price of admission.

    Excellent point, and one we need to start thinking about. In addition to income inequality, we will have information inequality.

    Bookmarked. I think I’ll put a reminder in my calendar for five years from now to see how prescient this post is. Thanks for writing it.

  • Some would disagree when you say: “We need but don’t have a single word that covers all the various forms of deceptive content.”. Democrat, libtard, CNN, MSNBC ….
    take your pick. Describes deceptive content perfectly.

    Look at how they all have lied about the Rittenhouse case where the video footage proves they are making stuff up they wish were true. Can’t wait for Kyle to win a million dollar award after he sues Brandon.
    Let’s go Biden !

  • “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

    This Isaac Asimov quote appears all over the internet these days. That these words accurately describe so much of its cultural climate is discouraging. Please continue to provide an oasis.

  • You have a really cool sci fi premise!! Someday maybe the plot will come.

    RE: malinfo
    bad software became ‘malware’ , so bad information should be something like ‘malfor,’ but that is too easily confused with Malfoy, or maltion .
    Perhaps start with knowledge? thus maledge?

  • Excellent article.

    But after seeing Zuckerberg, et al at the Congressional, I’m thinking IT may be our first and last line of effective defense against the socio/politoco/hypnosis virus that is malinfo.

    Like covid-19, it’s not what any of us signed up for, but malinfo doesn’t care.

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