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The top terms of the year, hallucinate, AI, and authenticity, as chosen by dictionaries, reveal our greatest fears.


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The long-awaited moment has arrived: dictionaries are revealing their words of the year. Last week, Merriam-Webster, the most respected lexicon in the US, announced their selection: “authentic”.

The dictionary stated that the term had experienced a significant increase in searches this year due to conversations surrounding topics such as AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media. This aligns with the concept of authenticity, which, to use another popular phrase, is closely connected to many of the current issues occupying our thoughts.

Large language models like ChatGPT and image generators like Dall-E have left us uncertain about what’s genuine, from student essays to the pope’s fashion choices, while concerns over artificial intelligence’s version of creativity helped fuel a long-running Hollywood strike. When it comes to the news, online mis- and disinformation, along with armies of bots, have us operating under different sets of facts. And in a world in which we carefully craft digital selves, it’s increasingly difficult to distinguish personality from persona.

Other prominent dictionaries have also selected similar words of the year. Cambridge selected the term “hallucinate”, emphasizing its connection to generative AI. They noted the potential for this technology to produce false information, or “hallucinations”, and present it as truth. Collins was more direct in their choice, naming “AI” as their word of the year.

It is unusual for these dictionaries to have such similar choices. Last year, Webster selected “gaslighting”, Cambridge chose “homer”, and Collins opted for “permacrisis”. (Oxford, which incorporates public voting in its process, chose “goblin mode”; this year, they also stuck with slang by choosing “rizz”.) In today’s divided world, the dictionaries’ unity suggests that there is one thing we can all agree on: robots are frightening. Unlike gaslighting and goblin mode, AI is a fascination that seems to transcend generations. Whether you’re a baby boomer or part of Gen Z, OpenAI symbolizes a change that goes beyond NFTs, the metaverse, and all the other passing trends that were supposed to revolutionize humanity.

In the world of real people, celebrities and wellness experts are showcasing their “true selves” – as Merriam-Webster notes, being authentic has now become a show. In essence, we have become adept at faking genuineness.

However, what is truly genuine is, regrettably, often not very compelling. The BeReal application, which aims to display users’ true identities by requiring them to capture and upload photos at unexpected moments – even if the activity they are engaged in is unflattering – appears to have been a passing trend. And our natural appearances are not very entertaining either: the number of people undergoing cosmetic surgery has increased by almost 20% from 2019 to 2022.

Perhaps it’s worth considering a new perspective on the concept of authenticity. Instead of viewing our social media profiles as a reflection of our true selves, what if we see them as deliberate and artful representations of who we aspire to be? Our desired identity is a significant aspect of who we are. Rather than dismissing Instagram and TikTok as inauthentic displays, perhaps we can recognize them as genuine expressions of ourselves.

Source: theguardian.com