In what I think was probably the most recent episode of Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast, Mr. Walker featured an artificial intelligence (AI) expert from Google. The Google guy was discussing what sounds like an AI game for geeks. In this scenario, the geeks are themselves artificial intelligence entities. Think of them as computer one and computer two.

Computer one’s gig is to create realistic scenes indistinguishable from reality. Think of them as mind pictures. Also keep in mind that these scenes are completely computer generated. They are fully a product of artificial intelligence, ones and zeros supported by algorithms. Once the button is pushed, there is no additional human intervention.

For computer two, the gig is reality detection. Along with IA scenes from computer one, computer two is shown scenes captured from actual reality. The challenge for computer two is to tell which scenes are artificial and which are actual, which are fake and which are real. Think of computer two as a lie detector of sorts.

It does not seem like much of a stretch to believe the Google guy when he suggests that computer one (the AI box) has progressed further than computer two (the lie detector). Computer one can produce artificial reality virtually indistinguishable from the real world. Not only can computer one fool computer two, it does a fair job of deceiving computer two’s keepers as well.

It is pretty clear that it is no longer true that a picture is worth a thousand words, if it ever was true. At least it is not as true as it used to be.

This would be little more than an interesting story from Google land if that were where the story ends but it isn’t. The AI box is far from finished just because its fake picture can trick computer two into believing that the picture is real. It has deceptions to come that are even more incredible.

Instead of simple still pictures, the AI box has evolved past static images to document production. Think of a newspaper with text and pictures. Think of a magazine with familiar characters and believable story lines. Think of artificially generated video experiences that are as realistic as two peas in a pod. It is possible to produce any reality you choose at the push of a button.

Like many discoveries and creations emerging from the fertile minds and black boxes of the geniuses we know nothing about, all is well so long as their revelations remain in their laboratories and secret refuges. Unfortunately, the AI magic is not so neatly contained. The AI newspaper with text and pictures, the AI magazine with familiar characters and believable story lines, and the artificially generated video experiences that are as realistic as two peas in a pod may be out there for us on our two hundred and ninety million cell phones, on our one hundred and eighteen million televisions, and spuming forth from our thirty thousand broadcast stations just in the United States.

I think we all understand the idea of news. It’s new information about specific and timely events. It’s the who, what, where and when of our world. To be news, what is reported needs to be true and factual. We also know that the why is more often than not a matter of opinion and perspective. Why usually does not qualify as news. Nonetheless, being truthful and factual are essential.

We have also come to understand that along with real news, there is fake news. It’s fake news when the who, what, where, or when are not truthful, not factual or when the why is intentionally incorrect or misleading. Fake news is not simply mistaken; it is intentionally false. When recognized, fake news sets off the alarm in our internal lie detector. The good news is that there is an increasing array of high quality lie detectors out there to help us tell truth from lie. The bad news is that some of those presumed lie detectors are but further iterations of the fake news machine. Most days it seems that the lyres may be winning.

You do recall computer one, don’t you? The emerging capacity of artificial intelligence makes fake news seem like a parlor game. Fake news is at least humans producing it versus Humans detecting it. AI is more like the black box producing an alternative reality that is indistinguishable from what is real and tangible. This alternative reality may appear to be news but also may appear to be most anything the black box chooses to conjure.

Consider this. Whatever you read, listen to, or view on your cell phone, on your TV, your computer screen, or take in from your radio or through your ear phones may represent reality or may be no more than the product of the churning of ones and zeros in a black box somewhere. Your reality may be merely the conjuring of the witch in the box. The reality is that there is no way to tell for sure. At least you now know what the objective is when you hear that it is all a big witch hunt.