Jul 11, 2019

Axios Future

By Bryan Walsh
Bryan Walsh

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Today's Smart Brevity count: 1187 words, a < 5 minute read.

What else should we write about this summer? Hit reply to this email or message me at steve@axios.com, Kaveh Waddell at kaveh@axios.com and Erica Pandey at erica@axios.com.

Okay, let's start with ...

1 big thing: Tracing deepfakes

Photoshop: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

There is a pitched struggle underway between the makers of fake AI-generated videos and images and forensics experts trying desperately to uncover them. And the detectives are losing, Kaveh reports.

Now, experts are attempting an end-run: They are developing methods to verify photos and videos at the precise moment they're taken, leaving no room for doubt about their authenticity. This could portend a cynical future in which media must leave a digital trail of breadcrumbs in order to be believed.

Why it matters: Their effort is the leading edge in a massive scramble to stave off a potential landscape in which it's impossible to know what's true and what isn't.

  • Some worry that if authentication becomes the default, people without access to verification technology — or who can't give up sensitive information about their location — will lose out.
  • One possible outcome: a bifurcated world in which some photos and videos, published by those who can afford the tools and visibility, are accompanied by a green checkmark — but other media languish in obscurity and doubt.

"My concern is that if they actually achieve their end-state goal that they describe, that might work against people who are already marginalized, and might perpetuate data surveillance," says Sam Gregory, a program manager at the human-rights nonprofit WITNESS.

Where it stands: The consensus today is that detecting deepfakes after they've been created is a stopgap — not a permanent solution.

  • With billions of photos now uploaded to social media every day — and deepfakes becoming increasingly easy to make — catching forgeries needs automated detection tools, which are unlikely to ever catch the majority of fakes.
  • "I don't believe forensics can work in the long run," says Pawel Korus, a professor of engineering at NYU. "It was never reliable enough to begin with, and it's starting to break as cameras are doing more and more interesting things."

What's happening: The main alternative is to verify a photo or video at the source, using unique information about the specific camera that's taking it.

  • The ultimate vision is a universal indicator of veracity to accompany photos and videos on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media.
  • But in this future, the all-important imprimatur of truth may not be in everyone's reach.
  • "The people who will be de facto excluded in a system of authentication will be people who are in the Global South, use a jailbroken phone, probably are women, probably are in rural areas," Gregory tells Axios.

Several startups are working on this nascent technology.

  • TruePic, a venture-backed startup, wants to work with hardware manufacturers — Qualcomm, for now — to log photos and videos the instant they're captured.
  • Amber, a small San Francisco startup, sends an encrypted record of photos and videos to a blockchain, so viewers can check if clips were later altered.
  • Serelay, based in the U.K., saves about 100 phone sensor readings every time you snap a photo — GPS, pressure sensor, gyroscope, etc. — to check its veracity.

What's next: All three companies told Axios that a widespread built-in verification system is still years away. For now, they are working with industries that need to be able to trust incoming videos and photos — TruePic with insurers, Amber with body camera makers, and Serelay with media companies.

2. The superstar cities leaving others behind

San Francisco, one of the superstars. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty

The lion's share of post-recession job growth in the U.S. has taken place in just 25 cities — superstars like New York and San Francisco that teem with young workers staffing in-demand industries, writes Axios' Kim Hart.

  • About a third of Americans live in these cities of opportunity, largely dominated by booming sectors like tech, health care, media and real estate.
  • They make up the country's "urban core," one of five classes of American cities identified in a new report out today from the McKinsey Global Institute.

These cities, though they are saddled with their own deep income inequality and bubbling housing crises, are the only ones positioned to succeed in the new automation-driven future of work, according to the report.

  • Key stat: Those megacities could claim at least 60% of job growth through 2030.
  • On the other end are "trailing" cities and rural regions with aging workforces, lower education levels and jobs that are highly susceptible to automation-related displacement. They may see a decade of flat or even negative net job growth.

This landscape isn't likely to change, even as the fates of the superstars and the second-tiers continue to diverge.

  • Workforce mobility is at historic lows, meaning far fewer people are moving to new counties or states.
  • That means people from distressed areas aren't finding their way into more prosperous ones, deepening their sense of being left behind and likely leading to greater social and political turmoil.

Women may be better positioned than men for the automation-era jobs. McKinsey data suggest that women could capture 58% of net job growth through 2030.

  • This is largely because women dominate health and personal care work.
  • The catch: Many of those jobs are not high-paying.
3. Mailbox: Faux burgers

Photo: Bettmann/Contributor/Getty

Future readers were eager to weigh in on yesterday's post on the food fight under way between boosters and detractors of real and fake hamburgers. Here are two:

"The fact that a 'hot dog' doesn’t contain dog shows how daft the meat industry’s protests are. This tactic is a protectionist action by a worried industry, as consumers become more conscious of the environmental and health impacts of a meat-laden diet. Imagine, for example, if the auto industry tried to claim that AI-driven vehicles could not be called 'cars.' Computer-piloted transportation modules, anyone?"
— Craig Fawcett, Rotterdam, Netherlands
"The first time I saw the Impossible Burger on a restaurant menu (complete with a description that clarified it as a vegetable patty), I didn’t realize 'Impossible' was a brand name. Rather, I thought the implication was that the restaurant’s regular-old-veggie patty was impossibly good. When the very beef-like burger came out, I thought I’d been delivered the wrong thing!
After realizing my interpretation error, I happily devoured that burger and have been an unabashed fake meat fan ever since. Fake meat, as a concept, has always sounded terribly unappealing, and I’m not sure I ever would have tried it if I hadn’t tried it by accident."
— Laura James, Palm Springs, Calif.
4. Worthy of your time
Expand chart
Reproduced from BloombergNEF; Chart: Axios Visuals

The nomads shopping at Walmarts to sell on Amazon (Josh Dzieza — The Verge)

China leads a global clean energy spending stall (Ben Geman — Axios)

Automakers overpromised — now what? (Jeffrey Rothfeder — Fast Company)

The new workers of the world (Vauhini Vara — Bloomberg)

Asking the machines about consciousness (John Pavlus — Quanta)

5. 1 road thing: Songs to sing in a truck

Photo: Francois Ancellet/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

On Tuesday, we wrote about the changes underway in trucker culture. Jason Eastman, a professor at Coastal Carolina University, responded that he's been studying trucker culture for a decade, using a particular lens — the songs they sing.

I asked Jason what song exemplifies what's going on now. He responded with a 1978 recording of "Truck Drivin' Outlaw" by Dennis Olson, which he said "best captures the current situation with a decline in the industry and how it’s undermining masculine autonomy. It’s also fitting because these songs tend to be recorded over and over again by different artists."

Jason adds: "Joey Holiday also writes a lot about trucker solidarity in the face of industry change, but unfortunately there’s not one song that fits the current situation as he tends to sprinkle these ideas throughout his catalog."

Bryan Walsh