I had some questions for Peter Gabriel. Then he wrote back.

Peter Gabriel–yes, THAT Peter Gabriel–was in Toronto Wednesday for an appearance at Enterprise World 2019, hosted by software giant Open Text. As well as sitting down with CEO and CTO Mark J. Barrenechea, Peter agreed to take some questions via email.

Would I be interested in asking him about a few things? Absolutely.

Alan Cross: You’ve been an advocate for citizen journalism for years. What future do you see for that in the age of fake news, deep fake videos, and partisan mainstream media outlets?

Peter Gabriel: I am worried at the rapid growth and clever manipulation of fake news.

One of the phenomena the really fascinates me and sometimes horrifies me is this increasing manipulation and destruction of truth. That it is very hard now to tell what actually happened anyplace, anytime and you see time and time again older and bolder media manipulations where, even though there’s some evidence people will completely deny something and make a bigger, better, more dramatic story and just hold people’s attention, or get it to swing away from a less dramatic but more straightforward account.

We’re often left with question marks all over the place. There are brilliant people who sit beside the powerful who are involved in building this popular, post-truth storytelling phenomena.

In my country, there was overwhelming evidence that the recent poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury was a state-sponsored Russian assassination attempt. Knowing that a story can only hold the headlines for three days max, new wild counterclaims were being fed to the papers every three days. These were designed to obfuscate – to confuse us, so what didn’t know or didn’t remember what we were originally told.

Less effective but also carefully controlled, were the Saudi responses to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The search for the truth is a technological cat and mouse game and one way to counter fake news is to give the citizen access to tools with the same level of sophistication as those in power. Demis Hassabis, creator of DeepMind, suggested a personal AI avatar might help us.

Another method might be to demand more transparency so that each story can be traced back to the individuals that created or altered it – the provenance of each bit of information. You then have to think about protecting whistle-blowers.

Another idea is to create tagging systems that can help authenticate a story.

It is absolutely critical that there are organizations that can support ordinary people, who have real stories that need telling, that can be authenticated and trusted and there’s a means of getting their experience, their suffering to the world and visible in a trusted format.

I think this is crucially important and WITNESS has a huge role to play in that going forward.

AC: Many people believe that we’ve reached some kind of ultimate level of music consumption with music streaming services which has superseded physical product. But is there something beyond streaming?

PG: For anyone to be able to get any music, at any time, in any place, is a magnificent achievement, I am however now much more interested in seeing that approach applied to medicine so that any (digital) treatment is available to anyone at any time in any place.

The internet has allowed many things to be personalised and I imagine we will be evolving or exploring music so that each person’s experience is unique to them, unless they choose to share it with others. Clearly, we are also opening the door to the world of immersive experience design. We will be able to use music as one of those elements.

Music will be applied much as a doctor might select a pill from a pill box. Probably not so useful in our cars, while we are still driving them, but fascinating to see believable experiences (that might teach us a thing or two) being streamed.

AC: The Internet has created a truly global marketplace for music. You no longer need to sing in English to have a hit. Which territories have the best chance of breaking out globally with their music?

PG: It’s a little like when women were given the vote, and some men were saying “OK, job done.” We are still so far from being done here. If you are not born in a country with a dominant language, perhaps English, Cantonese, Hindi or Spanish, it’s still very difficult to get heard and played. We are at the very beginning of truly opening up to other cultures.

At the same time, we are seeing less tolerant populist politicians succeeding all over the world that are winding the clock backward, toward monoculture. We need some of our trusted globally minded curators to lead us into the unknown, to give us enough incentives and encouragement to become social explorers. These curators will soon be our favourite AI bots.

Already BTS, from South Korea are storming into Western teen culture and it may be that the current generation of teenagers is the first to open their arms to commercial pop phenomena from all around the world.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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