In the last few weeks, I've seen a few posts on social media from event organizers. The theme has been "we won't make up AI speakers", which I thought was some sort of joke about AI being used to write, and perhaps, deliver a presentation. After all, we're a long way from Max Headroom, and with all the AI stuff happening, maybe an AI actor could present something to an audience.
It wasn't a joke and the conference in question has been cancelled.
Apparently, the organizer said he generated a fake woman's profile with AI after a woman dropped out. He says this was a placeholder, which is possible, but it's not something I'd do at an event. I'd just note there is a hole in the speaker schedule and I was looking for someone else. There are also claims that previous conferences included fake profiles or profiles of women who dropped out or declined to speak.
A number of tech speakers and execs dropped out of the conference after this news. There are quite a few people who look at the list of speakers and if there is not enough diversity, they may decide not to attend. There are even corporate policies at some companies that note that they don't support events that haven't made efforts to include a diverse set of speakers.
I get that someone might struggle to get a diverse set of speakers (or employees), and despite their efforts, they end up with a homogenous group of people. I've seen this happen, and I know that timing, travel, topic, etc. sometimes mean that a session could end up with all men (or all women). It's unfortunate, but it happens. I also know that plenty of people don't want to disclose that they are considered someone of "diversity," which makes it hard for organizers to plan their schedule.
However, I don't get putting fake profiles up on a site. Those aren't placeholders, those are deceitful actions that want to generate some publicity or hide the fact someone chose not to participate. It's the same when a speaker withdraws, though I know that updating the website with a cancellation sometimes doesn't take precedence. Speaking is a burden, it costs money, and at many events, I've seen speakers cancel for various reasons, including the need for them to be at work instead. Especially at more general events, like some of the DevOps conferences that choose managers to speak, I'm somewhat shocked at all the cancellations written on boards outside of conference rooms.
The age of digital everything, with the added capabilities of AI, mean that I find myself trusting lots of "data" less and less. The images, videos, and especially text can, and often is, manipulated by someone for their own purposes. I'm not surprised at all the outrage and conspiracy views of the world when any sort of information can be faked. As someone who's tried hard to ensure data quality, as do most data professionals, it's disturbing to see the trend.
I'm equally disturbed by the constant calls of fake news, not because facts are in dispute, but because someone doesn't like facts. There is fake news, there is bias and slant, and there is a difference of opinion, but I hope that most data professionals do their best to ensure the data they have is correct. After that, I hope people using that data do so honorably, without trying to deceive others by making something up.