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What an Endless Conversation with Werner Herzog Can Teach Us about AI

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On the website Infinite Conversation, the German filmmaker Werner Herzog and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek are having a public chat about anything and everything. Their discussion is compelling, in part, because these intellectuals have distinctive accents when speaking English, not to mention a tendency toward eccentric word choices. But they have something else in common: both voices are deepfakes, and the text they speak in those distinctive accents is being generated by artificial intelligence.

I built this conversation as a warning. Improvements in what’s called machine learning have made deepfakes—incredibly realistic but fake images, videos or speech—too easy to create, and their quality too good. At the same time, language-generating AI can quickly and inexpensively churn out large quantities of text. Together, these technologies can do more than stage an infinite conversation. They have the capacity to drown us in an ocean of disinformation.

Machine learning, an AI technique that uses large quantities of data to “train” an algorithm to improve as…

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