Fact-based reasoning has provided a foundation for progress in modern societies. While emotions play a positive role in analysis and decision-making, emotion-based appeals and reasoning have recently become more common in public discourse and social media. In a post-fact world, political, social, and economic systems could become dysfunctional.
We live in a world where information is flowing at unprecedented rates, and the media ecosystem has drastically changed. Political leaders and ordinary citizens can disseminate their thoughts at the click of a button, bots can wreak political and societal havoc, and there is growing distrust of our peers, institutions, and scientists. Continuing down this path could undermine the importance and concept of truth. Fact-based evidence could be mired in suspicion, due to beliefs
steeped in personal preference, emotional reactions, and past and current system grievances. In response, some societies could opt to adopt mass profiling systems as a means to seek ultimate transparency and truth.
What is changing?
- Declining trust. Many Western nations are seeing a continued decline of citizen trust in institutions, namely media, government, and non-governmental organizations. 2018 also saw rising distrust in peer-to-peer discussion as well as in social platforms and search engines.
- Distrust and suppression of science. Public trust in science is faltering around politicized global issues such as climate change, genetically modified food, and vaccinations. Political leaders have also contributed to skepticism over science in decrying scientific studies.
- Transformation of the media ecosystem. As digitization rolled through the media sector, how and from whom we consume news drastically changed. In this new environment, traditional media companies lost their hold on the market, as well as their mechanisms for generating revenue. In this transformed media ecosystem, virtually everyone has a voice, and there is a deluge of information and opinions to sift through.
- Emerging technologies enable mass manipulation. Bots and algorithms allow small groups to target emotion-based, fact-free messages to individuals and groups. Consumers both prefer and most trust news broadcast by video. But even in this arena, it is possible to falsify information – the capability to alter live video and audio exists today.
- Profiling and reputation systems. Surveillance, biometrics, and artificial intelligence are making human profiling systems a reality. In China, AI and biometrics are used to identify and arrest fugitives, profile potential future criminal activity, and track individuals and alert if they move into areas that are restricted based on their profiles. Tencent, a private company, also rolled out a trial credit granting system based on morality scores. In the U.S., predictive policing has been used for years and tech giants like Taser are working on AI systems that could profile propensity for criminal action.
Why is this significant in 10-15 years?
- Democracy unable to function. As society struggles to tell fact from fiction, political, ethical, moral, religious, and regulatory conversations become impossible. The fact-based common ground for pragmatic consensus disappears, threatening our ability to effectively debate important issues.
- End of progress. If politically convenient research and science becomes the only kind leaders acknowledge, there could be irreversible long-term consequences for progress on issues that require informed rational treatment.
- Loss of scientific expertise. Fearing political and societal backlash, experts may be less willing to continue research or share their results. This could result in less scientific innovation that could be key in tackling important global issues.
- Reputation and profiling systems abound. As societies continue to pursue a way to find truth, people could become more willing to adopt profiling and reputation systems across the board. These systems could seem attractive as a way to “trust” one another. If these systems are adopted, they could be used in many areas, such as how goods and services are allocated, where we are allowed to travel, what benefits we are eligible to receive, where we can gain employment and live, and what virtual and physical realms we are allowed to access.
- Authenticity is undermined. In the future, profiling and reputation systems could become the norm, affecting how we interact, trust, and relate to one another. If we know that our every move, right down to our facial expressions, are being monitored and evaluated, we could live in a world where everyone behaves in a way that feeds information into the system that works to their advantage. This environment could stifle real conversations, and people could lose a sense of connection with each other and their communities. In a world where truth is too difficult to identify, society could shift away from upholding truth as a value. Conversely, there could be a move to create truth systems that do not impede on civil liberties.
This image illustrates ‘Truth Under Fire in a Post-Fact World’ and highlights ‘Change Drivers’ and ‘Implications’ specifically.