Deepfakes and Synthetic Media: the need to understand how we interpret our new reality

By Qaalfa Dibeehi

Deepfakes and Synthetic Media: the need to understand how we interpret our new reality

In the famous intro to the 1960s TV show, Twilight Zone, Rod Serling says “You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop—The Twilight Zone.”   We have entered the twilight zone via the possibilities of AI.  Deepfakes make it next to impossible for our sometimes naïve sense of reality to comprehend.  Will we all become more cynical or disbelieving or will we increasingly accept the AI generated reality as just another version of the current one?  While we learn the answer to that we are all in danger for the fraudsters and catfishers out there.

Can it get serious? Oh yes!   Take the recent case of the Hong Kong finance worker who wired $25 million to fraudsters posing as his company’s Chief Financial Officer and other colleagues on a deepfake video call.  Everyone who was present on the video call besides the victim was a deepfake!  What’s interesting is that the worker was suspicious of the initial email believing it was phishing.  However, the video call request and actual video call waylaid his fears and convinced him everything was legitimate.

Imagine receiving a video call from your boss, the police, tax authority or immigration official.   Imagine situational scams.  Perhaps your flight has been delayed and you receive a video call from a deepfake airline agent to find a solution.   Maybe, your deepfake college kid video calls and asks for some money to be sent for some auxiliary program.  Maybe your company has received some negative PR and a subsequent deepfake video turns up on social media showing your deepfake employees validating the negative news in a secretly recorded in office meeting.

Of course, there are positive uses as well.  Multinational corporations may use interactive synthetic media of the CEO to share with employees to gain buy-in / alignment with a shared purpose or new strategic direction.   Interactive synthetic media will allow individual employees to interact with the CEO.   This will be a much more transformative experience.  A single live experience will be missed by most employees. A recording of the session will be unidirectional and may not answer the clarifying questions each employee has.

While the new technologies are exciting and offer worlds of possibilities, we should focus just as heavily human side of technology.  Real people will always be the weakness in maximising new tech applied potential.   We (Human2outcome along with IntheRoom) have begun to think about the following questions and looking at ways of researching them.

  • How is our sense of reality changing in response to new media?
  • What markers should ethical technology use to help us vulnerable humans discern the new reality?
  • What education is required to boost our higher order critical thinking to better prepare us for novel situations involving new media?

Having a consistent experience will help.  The overarching experience will help provide the necessary context and signals we may use to discern truth in the twilight zone.  It will be much easier to deepfake us in isolated transactions.  It will be much more difficult to mimic a full experience… but not impossible.

If you are interested in research in the effects of synthetic media on our concept of reality, get in touch.  We’d love to hear your ideas or collaborate.