The Future Will Be Signed

Cryptography is becoming more important in our every day lives and there’s no way around it. Whether it’s the calls from governments to ban encryption, come up with “responsible encryption”, or to violate norms and laws, cryptography is playing a role in shaping our society. I’d like to approach the role of cryptography from the other perspective though, from the side of helping us prove facts about the world around us.

We are entering an era where technology empowers people to create artificial evidence for stories and narratives. While we can’t yet create facts, we’re approaching a point where artificial evidence looks very believable.

  • Nvidia is using machine learning to generate fake pictures of humans that seem so real that humans can’t tell they’re fake.

  • Lyrebird is building technology that allows people to enter text, and they will generate a rather convincing audio file of someone (like… say… Donald Trump) speaking it.

  • Watch this video clip of Barack Obama saying things he never said. I guarantee you there’s at least a few people who are fooled by this today.

Today you may think “this doesn’t quite sound like Donald Trump” or “that doesn’t quite look like Barack Obama”, but technology only moves forward. It’s going to get better and better. What happens when you can’t believe your eyes and ears? What happens when you have to question every picture you see, every sound you hear, every video you watch?

We need to have answers before this becomes a problem. We’re going to need a way to prove the authenticity of a piece of digital content, everywhere, in a simple manner. This is where public key cryptography comes in. Our current solutions are noble efforts, but remain too complex. This infrastructure is going to have to be baked directly into the software that developers build, in a way that is transparent to the end user.

A politician (or anyone) needs to be able to sign a tweet, audio recording, or video clip to prove authenticity of what they are saying. With the creation and fabrication of content being so easy, we’re going to need a model where the person creating the content can prove it is trustworthy, and otherwise it should be treated as inauthentic.

Outlawing encryption and controlling cryptography is a really bad idea. It may end up that these technologies help us maintain a level of trust in our society.

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