Reuters reports on a deepfake persona used for disinformation.

Few posts ago, I was writing about the growing (and worrying!) potential of the deepfake technology. You can check the article here.
A recent news from Reuters, provided another example of how disturbing the applications of such software can be.

The story features Oliver Taylor, a student at England’s University of Birmingham. He is an activist who engaged through a series of articles in a tense debate on political issues around anti-Semitism and Jewish affairs.
You can see Oliver’s photo in the source article on Reuters.

All this would not be anything particularly out of ordinary if not for one small detail.

Oliver Taylor doesn’t exist.

His identity is forged and his photo is a deepfake; an image generated through neural networks. As investigators behind Reuters article determined, some people generated this modern “Ventriloquist Dummy” to give voice to their agenda.

Thanks to Maximalfocus on Unsplash.

Dan Brahmy, quoted in the article (from Israel-based startup Cyabra specialized in detecting forged images.) observes:

“Deepfakes like Taylor are dangerous because they can help build “a totally untraceable identity,” (..) investigators chasing the origin of such photos are left “searching for a needle in a haystack – except the needle doesn’t exist.””

Those who played Deus-ex: Human Revolution might remembera character Eliza Cassan. She was an influential news anchor, famous all around the world. She also happened to be (spoiler alert!) a computer generated visual, a mere shell for a powerful AI behind it.

It seems like the reality is catching up on that one quite fast.
Maybe even… it already did?

Tech trends that could turn our post-pandemic world into a dystopia. Vol 1.

So the NEW normal is here… and it is far from normal, isn’t it?

The coronavirus pandemic, within a matter of weeks, changed our world into a poorly directed science-fiction movie. It brought the economic crash and created shifts in societal behaviors that could redefine our civilization as a whole.  It also became a catalyst for quite a few technological trends, that so far was known to masses only from dystopian fiction. 

These emerging technologies are there to stay, and will further redefine every daily life. It is worth a look, what new trinkets became more popular in these turbulent times. And give it a thought or two, on where these things might take us if we do not tread carefully.  

1. Machine learning and Deep Fakes 

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Photo by h heyerlein on Unsplash

The application of self-learning algorithms and neural networks is so common nowadays, that every digital business needs to embrace them in order to keep up with the competitors.  These technologies are accessible to everyone, through open-source libraries such as Tensorflow, Pytorch, or Keras. Since everyone can use those, it also opens the door for new ways of fraud and deception. Deep Fake technology is the best example. The ability to render the physical appearance of other people and literally put words in their (digital) mouth can have enormous ramifications. In mass media, social media, politics… pretty much everywhere if you think about it.  New tools for mimicking faces, voices & even whole silhouettes are popping up on the internet, and becoming increasingly more accessible. 

Someone once said that with the rise of Deep Fake technology, the only way to verify if the person we are interacting with is real will be to meet in with that person face to face. Well, in the age of global lockdowns, quarantines, work from home, and virtual meetings, that might get “slightly” harder. And hey, apparently (as you can see in the below video), deep faking will become so easy that even a make-up selling Instagram celebrity will be able to do it. Guess soon, when running the videos on YouTube we will need a certified anti-deep fake plugin so that we can verify its credibility. (Assuming we trust YouTube, that is… but that is a whole different story).So… fake it until you make it?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUfJOQKdtAk&t 

2. Digital payment methods 

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Photo by Neonbrand on Unsplash

Banknotes and coins were considered dirty even before the pandemic, so no surprise that as soon as it was discovered that virus can survive on some surfaces WHO made a recommendation to switch to cashless payment methods. Can’t say that e-wallet providers were specifically waiting for this, but they definitely have their moment now. And so card and mobile payments are on the rise. It is estimated that global total transactions of digital payments went up by 15% in 2020 comparing to the previous year (Bussiness2community). These payment methods are fast, comfy, and most importantly – clean. They are also trackable. Every digital transaction we make can be tied directly to us, and have no doubts – that data is being processed somewhere, even if for solely commercial purposes.  For example; to enable the provided to tailor more personalized offers and services in the future. (So to say, for our own good, right?)Ah, and yes, and unlike with our classy, old leather wallet, you can make the e-wallet disappear, by simply turning it off. Or better – someone can do that for you, remotely.
So in theory, assuming you did or said something naughty, someone, who was listening, can flip the switch and send you back to the good old stone age. 
Of course, commercial companies wouldn’t do that, would they? Oh, wait, they already did… you can read it about it here: Buzzfeed.

Thinking of dystopian trends, such situations just bring an eerie familiarity to the ultimate dystopia described in the last part of the Book we all know. Here is how it goes:“Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.”

I am not suggesting anything… however, if you think about it, it is peculiar on how what we understood by money evolved over the ages. First, people were trading good for other goods or services, then money was based on the value of the precious metals the coins were made of, then money became a representation of value in gold, then they were just based on trust. Now in the age of global mistrust, what exactly is money?Means of trade or means of control?

3. Biometrics 

Biometrics
Photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash

In the digital economy, more and more aspects of our lives are becoming tracked, measured, and categorized. Including collecting data from our bodily functions. 
But if Big Data was on the fast rise before, the global health crisis sends it skyrocketing towards the moon. Or to be more exact in our metaphor, it let it dive into the tiniest minuscules of our bodies. The All-Seeing Eye started to peek into places, which not so long ago we would only be reserved for medical staff. However, in times of war with the omnipresent virus, we became much more tolerant of most intrusive measures, sacrificing our privacy for the greater good. And so the innovative use biometric data, become the bread and butter in the coronavirus fight.  Apps that can diagnose COVID-19 infection by analyzing our voice, seem like a reasonable and would not raise anyone’s eyebrows. ( Source: Inteligentliving) .
Same for automatic fever detection devices, which are becoming standard equipment for more and more airports around the world. But how about, the digital immunity certificate, that is imprinted in your digital identity and defines if you are viable for travel or not? How about having such a certificate as a must-have for even obtaining a passport? Let’s take it even, further, what if such certificate defines on if you are able to move freely through any public space… like school corridors for example.What if the bare fact of having a vaccination, or having a negative result of your COVID-19 test would allow you to have special privileges over those who are not vaccinated or are untested?What if the untested are marked red, and those tested-negative get green?
What if the green-marked and red-marked are separated, and the first ones get their meals through fast-lane in a school cantine while the others need to wait?Sounds disturbing? Maybe reasonable?  While some debate ethical aspects of such scenarios ( for example Harvard) others just get the ball rolling. And no, not just China. One of the German Gymnasiums sparked a lot of public outcry by carrying in their school corridors the exact solution like the one described above.  No more geek versus bully battles.  Nowadays we’ve got good citizen green versus suspicious rebel red. (Source Focus.de, for those who know German). 

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Photo by Michael Walter on Unsplash

In the meantime, while most think of how biometric data can help to stop the pandemic, others keep digging into how to make more money out of it (out of data, not a pandemic… or?).And by digging I literally mean digging.A Big Tech Company we all know and love patented recently a revolutionary solution that allows using biometric data to mine bitcoin. Or to be more exact, it exploits the idea of injecting people with microchip implants, to store and use the data of their body activity.  Having such a microchip would allow its bearer,  to retrieve cryptocurrency, by solving complex computational problems without knowing it.  (Source Biohackinfo.)

So I guess, breaking a sweat on a math equation would get the literal meaning.Remember those human farms from Matrix? The vision of millions of bodies trapped in metal cocoons, bred and harvested for energy?

That patented solution hits a somewhat similar tune. Minus sentient robot overlords and near-perfect virtual reality enslavement, of course.
At least for now… that is.

Human Farm in Matrix
Human Farm in Matrix (Credit Warner Bros)

But hey! Assuming, good people are handling these technologies, then the sole purpose of it would be to make our life easier and better.  After all, the governments and big companies are made primarily of good and charitable people.
There is nothing to worry about then… right?

And since those microchips I mentioned earlier, would store our health and genetic information linked to our digital identity,  we would always know who is marked red and who is marked green.  Those eternal dilemmas on who to keep as friends on Facebook would disappear forever. 

I will leave you with that thought.  Stay tuned for the next episode. 

RadSchell