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Why you should NEVER believe your eyes

Kit Knightly

The ad is simple. A bus is held up in traffic after hitting a fruit cart, a young female passenger looks out her window at a handsome young man in a convertible. She gets out of the bus, gets in the car, and the man drives her away like a chauffeur while she’s eating a candy bar.

The young woman is Audrey Hepburn.

This has massively significant implications on our perception of the world in which we live, in ways nobody really talks about. But we’ll come back to Audrey later.

It doesn’t always seem like it, but humans are innately trusting.

Whether an evolutionary development designed to make functioning as a social group easier, or a vestige of thousands of generations of religious thinking, deep down our automatic position is that most people – most of the time – are telling the truth.

This is a natural inclination that tyrants have understood – and taken advantage of – for centuries.

But however much trust we innately place in others, there’s something we all trust more – our own eyes.

We are visual creatures, and once somebody has seen something – or believes they have seen something – it is almost impossible to convince them they haven’t.

And, these days, would-be tyrants can take advantage of that too.

Unfortunately, the necessary and primal trust our brains have in our eyes lags behind the ability of technology to confound them.

Deep Faking is, as most of us know, a video editing trick that can seamlessly replace one face with another. It’s not especially difficult, or expensive. All you need is the replacee to have a passing superficial resemblance to the replacer, a good number of photos showing different facial positions and the right computer software.

4chan “shitposters” do it from the comfort of their own bedrooms for a laugh, replacing porn star faces with those of actresses, celebrities, politicians, and Nicolas Cage.

Simply put, by the very nature of what it is, deep fake technology must make every video showing any face to some degree suspect.

The potential for fakery doesn’t stop at video, faking audio is getting easier and easier every year. With enough speech samples, voice synthesizers and voice cloners can make anyone say anything. This technology is getting better all the time and can mimic intonation perfectly.

Artificial Intelligence in general can draw, in seconds, any image you care to describe. It can generate photo-realistic faces that could be used as “victims” and “mugshots”, or cast any fake drama with fake actors.

Free online tools can do all of the above passably already. Obviously, governments and mega-corporations would have access to more expensive advanced tools that would probably be near-impossible to detect.

Hollywood movies deploy CGI to bring dead actors back to life, add modern faces to old news footage, burn cities to the ground or make 60-year-olds look 20 again.

Let us return to Audrey Hepburn eating a candy bar and examine it afresh.

Now, it could be argued this ad actually shows the limits of this tech, after all it has an uncanny valley quality and nobody who saw that ad ever thought for a single second it was really Audrey Hepburn.

Well, firstly, that advert is already eleven years old. It’s what a little candy commercial could do over a decade ago. The technology has improved since then.

Secondly, all of that information is contextual.

Back in 2013 when the commercial aired, your brain would have known it’s not supposed to believe what it’s seeing because you were watching a TV ad. Your brain would also have known what you were seeing was impossible, since Audrey Hepburn would have been 84 years old…if she hadn’t been already very, very  dead.

Your analytical brain can filter when it has additional information and context. You see the strings when you know they are there.

But imagine it wasn’t Audrey Hepburn, imagine it wasn’t an ad.

Let’s say it is footage played on the news, and instead of a technicolor candy ad it’s a grainy cell phone video showing victim A of terrorist attack X. It’s CCTV footage showing politician B receiving bribe Y. It’s defendant C livestreaming into his trial for offense Z.

The face looks real, the background looks real, the voice sounds real…

…yet potentially none of it is real at all.

But how many people out there process this? How many of us have reset our brains to make “yes, but is the video real?” the first question we ask?

Still, the automatic reaction from most people when people claim “that’s fake” is to scoff without a second thought.

That is old-fashioned thinking.

None of the information posted above is shocking or new, and I’m not suggesting it is. The technology is widely known and some of it is over a decade old,  it’s the addition to our mental meta that is lagging behind. Its use is not an automatic consideration yet and it should be.

Simply put – You can’t trust images or videos. Ever. It’s a lesson we all need to learn.

So, we know that fast-developing tools make highly convincing fake news or staged events not only possible but easy. For our final point I want to focus more on the repeated lesson of history people refuse to learn:

They. Already. Fake. Everything.

OK, not literally everything, but a lot. A huge amount. Much more than most people grasp.

It’s a minor example, but in this clip from CNN, two female reporters are pretending to be miles apart doing a satellite interview, when a bus going by in the background proves that they are in fact in the same parking lot, and aren’t separated by more than fifty feet.

A reminder of just how much of the media we consume every day is some type of unreality, one way or another.

You could say  “reality”, as we understand it, is barely ever seen in the media. Magazine covers are photoshopped. Interviews are stage-managed. “Scandals” can be largely PR stunts. “Reality television” is full of paid actors in simulated conflict with one another. Every scenario a contrivance, every emotion a performance.

The internet is rife with weather reporters leaning into hurricane winds that aren’t there, or paddling canoes in “floods” six inches deep.

Watch this video, allegedly recorded in Egypt circa the Arab Spring:

What are they doing? They appear to be pretending to protest, then freezing to pose for photos, some with fake injuries. Obviously not real, but when presented with only the stills or the video would it ever have crossed your mind?

In Syria the West even faked an entire charity. The “White Helmets” were said to be an organic organization of Syrians dedicated to saving lives. They were nothing of the sort. They were a NATO-funded psy-op and many of their “rescue” videos were clearly staged. They even took part in the viral “mannequin challenge” (a bad PR move that).

“Nayirah”, the Kuwaiti nurse who testified to seeing “babies thrown out of incubators” before the first Gulf War never really existed, she was a part played by the Kuwaiti ambassador’s daughter.

In his book Bought Journalists, the late Udo Ulfkotte recounts being in Iraq during the war and watching journalists poor petrol on burnt out tanks and cars, miles from the frontline, so they could set them on fire and pretend to be reporting from a warzone.

Remember Rolling Stone’s infamous “A Rape on Campus” article? 9000 words detailing a gang rape that never happened.

Within days of Russia launching its “special military operation” in Ukraine, both mainstream media and social media were flooded with fake and misattributed videos selling made-up stories.

From the very moment of its inception, Covid was an avalanche of fakery both macro and micro.

When it kicked off in China, we were treated so absurdly fake pictures and videos of people supposedly keeling over in the streets from the disease.

The rash of people suffering from “lying on their back in the street wearing a facemask” had spread to Italy by March 2020, but then quickly disappeared, never to be heard from again.

At the height of the panic a Twitter user named TraceyZ claimed two nurses at Swansea Hospital had died of Covid and three more were in the ICU. The claim went viral before the hospital itself contradicted it.

Not only did the five sick nurses not exist, TraceyZ didn’t exist.

The account bearing that name was deleted soon afterwards.

Remember this video a passerby took of “cleaners” on the London underground pretending to clean.

Or this video from inside a Spanish hospital, where the two “doctors” in the foreground are kitted out like extras from Outbreak, while a bemused person in the background watches on in nothing but a T-shirt.

Recall the sheer number of people who committed to “political theater” by pretending to wear masks, like this guy:

The Covid examples go on forever, four years of them and counting.

And those are just the ones we know about, the ones we can prove.

The media landscape is saturated with pretend, and has been for decades.

The technology discussed above doesn’t mean they will start faking things, it means the faking they’ve been doing for years will be easier to do and harder to detect.

The technology exists. The motivation exists. The required levels of dishonesty and corruption more than exist. The lazy entitlement that ‘justifies’ a culture of pretend also exists.

We’re long past the point now where questioning everything you see and/or hear could ever be considered “paranoid”. It’s healthy, rational and even a prerequisite for maintaining your sanity.

We know they’ll fake anything, so we must be prepared to question everything.

This article covers how the establishment could create fake news stories. In the second part of this article we’ll be asking a bigger question: why.

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