‘Authentic’ is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year Thanks to Fake AI Content

Robot holds up a human mask to its face
The rise of AI has people questioning what is real and what is fake.

The photo community has spent much of 2023 fretting over the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the fake images it’s brought with it, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Merriam-Webster’s 2023 word of the year is “Authentic.”

The dictionary says that it has noticed an uptick in people searching for the word and editor at large Peter Sokolowski says, “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis in authenticity.”

Photographers know this all too well, PetaPixel has reported on a series of authenticity scandals including AI Instagram pages masquerading as real photographers and an AI image winning a prestigious photography award.

Authenticity in the image world has now become so pointed that industry leaders have launched the Content Authenticity Initiative, or C2PA, which aims to make a standard for the provenance of images. Adobe, the BBC, Microsoft, and Sony have all joined up.

Last month, the Leica M11-P became one of the first cameras to launch with the standard baked into the camera to ensure the integrity of any images made with it.

C2PA has devised a way to securely embed any information relevant to the altering of images within the EXIF data of files; these changes are protected by hash codes and certified digital signatures.

“What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more,” Sokolowski tells The Associated Press.

In a press release, Merriam-Webster says “With the rise of artificial intelligence—and its impact on deepfake videos, actors’ contracts, academic honesty, and a vast number of other topics—the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ has become increasingly blurred.”

Tellingly, a runner-up for 2023 word of the year was “Deepfake.” Searches spiked when Tesla lawyers working on behalf of Elon Musk in a wrongful death lawsuit suggested that public statements he made might be deepfakes because he is a famous person. Interest in deepfakes also surged when Ron DeSantis used AI images of Donald Trump in a campaign video.

Also capitalizing on the crisis of authenticity was BeReal: an app that encourages users to post their lives as it is without the gloss and curations associated with platforms like Instagram.