Leadership in the Age of Deepfakes

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If you haven’t seen it, you’ve got to watch this clip of actor Bill Hader doing impressions of Tom Cruise and (briefly) Seth Rogan. It’s not really about the impressions, though. If you watch closely, Hader’s face actually transforms into Tom Cruise’s face while he speaks. It’s surreal, a little disturbing–and just the tip of the iceberg for what misinformation and fake news might look like in the near future.

This video is a “deepfake,” an AI-generated set of images created using a machine learning algorithm. In the most basic terms, a deepfake is an extremely realistic depiction of someone doing or saying something they didn’t actually do or say. Sometimes the results are hilarious, as when Jordan Peele impersonated Barack Obama to record a frank and irreverent PSA. Sometimes the results are disturbing or dangerous, as when politicians are made to say inflammatory things they didn’t say, or someone’s face is used in pornography without their consent.

It’s possible to train yourself to spot a deepfake, and we expect this will become more and more important. But in the face of the additional uncertainty and volatility that deepfakes are already introducing to the world, it’s worth considering: What kind of leadership is required for the age of deepfakes?

We live in a VUCA world.

VUCA comes from the Army War College and stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. There’s no question that today’s world is more VUCA than yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s will be more VUCA still. Deepfakes ratchet up the uncertainty and ambiguity, which makes for more complexity, often resulting in greater volatility–since human beings don’t tend to respond well en masse to high levels of uncertainty.

Leaders should fight VUCA with VUCA.

How should we live in such a world? With VUCA: Vision, Understanding, Clarity, and Agility.

Vision: the ability to clearly see, describe, communicate, and influence others towards the better future, in whatever ways will best connect with those around us;

Understanding: growth in knowledge combined with pertinent and timely application of that knowledge, resulting in wisdom;

Clarity: removing the fog through excellent questions, ceaseless curiosity, committing to particular measurements of progress as often as possible, and accurately distinguishing true polarities (tensions to be managed) from solvable challenges;

Agility: a hungry openness to new data combined with holding very loosely any specific strategies for accomplishing vision.

Deepfakes are a truly new phenomenon. But in some ways deepfakes are just one more manifestation of the human drive to create, a drive that can be twisted and turned to malicious ends.

Leadership in the age of deepfakes requires leaders to organize systems that fight VUCA with VUCA. This will grow the kind of people less open to being manipulated by deepfakes and whatever other new technology presents itself in the coming years.

For more information on how GOinnovation forms leaders for a VUCA world, check out our Leadership Clinics and register for one near you.

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