Fake or Fortune?

Fake or fortune? Donald Trump’s ‘fake news’, photorealism and the latest, for me at least – virtual celebrities. What can we believe?

The Matrix trilogy is being extended with the return of Keanu Reeves – a great film series that challenged the audience to consider whether we’re living in a real or virtual reality world where humans are actually drugged, living in a virtual world, whilst in ‘reality’ they are connected to a huge machine as fuel for a mythical superbeing. 

Sometimes I wonder how far from the truth the basis of the film actually is? what is real? What is merely the product of our imagination?

A bit of a leap? OK, maybe. But bear with me.

In today’s world we are increasingly surrounded by images, sounds, stories all with the potential to truly confuse our senses.  I was prompted to write this blog whilst on a visit to a National Trust shop in Cornwall.  I was on holiday and came across some amazing photos on the wall.  Stunning scenes of rolling hills and the Cornish sea.

However, on closer inspection, they turned out to be photorealistic paintings. (Yes, that picture – left – is actually a painting!).  It was an exhibition of truly amazing talent; my senses were truly confused, and I was tempted to ask whether the label attached to the painting was accurate.

A chap called Kelvin Okafor is doing the same with a humble pencil.  Look at the picture – right – he has the patience of a saint but after over 220 hours per picture he manages to create pictures that are quite simply stunning, and immensely realistic.  I challenge anyone to confidently tell the difference with reality.

It’s a modern version of ‘Fake or Fortune?’ where Fiona Bruce, surrounded by luminaries from the art world hunt for the truth, attempting to determine the provenance of artwork and the fortune within, with forgeries and fakes often revealed – deceiving even the most renowned art historian.

OK, if it were to stop at simple pictures and paintings then fine, but this ability to deceive is going much, much further. There are now virtual celebrities.  Yes, you’ve read that right.  These are purely a visual representation of a mythical being.  An artists’ impression of a phantom – but they are so incredibly detailed.  You are driven to keep looking – surely it’s (she’s?) real?

Look up Dagny (pictured left) and Shudu if you want to join their cult (@dagny.gram & @shudu.gram).  These virtual celebrities have over 180,000 Instagram followers combined.  They are ‘employed’ to boost and endorse a whole range of products. They’re not real.  They’re digital Supermodels.  But wow, are they realistic.

This ability to deceive isn’t some harmless fun – sadly.  In the virtual world Phishing is commonplace.  At first these were easy to spot.  Fiona Bruce wasn’t required to spot the fake or fortune.  Poor rendering, inaccurate spelling, strange web site behaviours – all giving off massive clues that they were clearly fraudulent.

But digital con merchants are determined to deceive and have become far more sophisticated.  They replicate companies web presence in the hunt for personal details.  Capturing personal information through on-line competitions, stealing data through fake web sites, presenting on-line experiences that are a mirror image of the real thing – and wow, are they realistic.

For proof here’s a few statistics from AdEPT partner, Sophos.

89% of Phishing attacks are orchestrated by professional cyber-crime organisations.  Phishing emails have six times the click through rate of genuine marketing emails.  Whilst people open 30% of phishing emails!

Scary statistics – fraudsters are more competent than the so-called professionals.

Is it any wonder then that we are beginning to doubt all that we see? 

Technology is helping, as companies find ways for us to prove that we are who we say we are.  The most commonplace being two factor identification.

With this technology you need to prove who you are.  Combining passwords with something that only you own (mobile device, PC) or a unique physical characteristic – facial recognition or a fingerprint.  Incontrovertible two-part proof that we are who we say we are. 

But how does this work in reverse.  How do we get absolute proof that the company we are engaging with is real, with substance, and not a fake?  Though there is a ‘lock’ attached to web sites on browsers, with web site certification to show that sites are trusted.

AdEPT is active in this space.  With Microsoft advocating Two Factor Identification this is becoming a hotter topic and we are being asked to set up tooling for companies across all markets.

Perhaps the world is going to go full circle? Are we going to require physical proof?

I doubt it, but was reminded of a project I was involved in back in the 1990’s. 

I was leading a project to set up a new telephone-based insurer in Milan for Royal Insurance (as was).  Their MD was determined to find a suitable office but was fixated on the need for a tall building near a motorway.  I asked him why? “You’re a telephone insurer.  You can be out of town.” 

It turned out that Italian’s doubted insurers that just lived behind a phone.  They didn’t believe the advert in the newspaper.  If it was too good to be true it probably was.  They didn’t trust companies they couldn’t see or touch.  They needed to see evidence.

Will we all become Italian? Will we begin to doubt virtual companies?  Will we demand physical proof that they exist?  Or are we actually living in the world of the Matrix?

Written by Phil Race

CEO - AdEPT Technology Group