These People Do Not Exist: How To Manipulate The World


Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two extremely hot and trendy topics at this time in the technology world. Some believe it will change the world, others don’t really think much of it (one of my professors claimed it was only useful for solving very specific problems 95% of the time). I, however, am continuously blown away by how advanced this technology has bloomed in the past few years.

Thispersondoesnotexist.com is a website I frequently use as an example to show those around me how freakishly powerful artificial intelligence and machine learning technology has become. Computers are recently able to generate original images, creative text, falsified videos, and more for extremely low prices. To prove my point, the people in the animation above, and two of the three people below don’t actually exist.

One of these pictures is of a real person, but the other two are fake. Can you tell which is real?


Challenge: Which Of These Three People is REAL?

Is he real?
How about her?
Is this individual real?

Seriously, take some time to try and determine which person is real. I’ll point out which one is real later in this article, but for now I hope you can enjoy the confusion.

The technical details of how this works are publicly available, but really aren’t too important. I think the implications are much more critical, and this technology is why I used a flip phone for awhile.

Often, these fake accounts are commonly associated with people like The Tinder Swindler, fake boyfriends, or other criminals who try to separate people from their hard-earned money. These fake images often serve a much more sinister purpose: going on social media and believing that a group of people all believe in certain things when in reality few of them are real.

“The technology can be used to make people believe something is real when it is not,”

Peter Singer, cybersecurity and defense focused strategist and senior fellow at New America.

This happened, and is happening, in the United States, with grassroots rallies and protests organized by professionals in Russia operating under false personas. Large, real-life events organized by extremely realistic profiles that are actually completely fake.

Fact From Fiction: Don’t Check Online!

There’s no way for people to guarantee if a person is real or not. Sometimes, with a low budget adversary, it’s blatantly obvious when someone is fake: @1928379BAUHS on Twitter saying “Yes here in south Carolina there is none inflation!!! >:( #fakeInflation #liberals” posted from an account 2 hours old, location in a city within the Russian Federation.

Probably fake. Actually, totally fake as I just made it here.

This is actually the trap. Users begin to believe that fake accounts are all easy to spot when, in reality, none of these people are real:

Totally Fake
Super Fake
Completely Fake

There’s truly, no way to guarantee with 100% certainty if an account/post/article/comment is fake. Even sophisticated techniques designed to catch bots and malicious users are consistently bypassed by dedicated engineers, since all online behavior can be manipulated. Conservative estimates claim over 40% of the internet is not real, but since it’s impossible to tell it likely is much higher. Nobody actually knows how much information on the internet is real.

This false sense of security is what makes it so easy to manipulate the world. Since users believe that bots are easy to detect and are otherwise banned by the social media company employees, they are extra vulnerable to fall for such traps.

Another completely falsified tweet, but doesn’t this one seem a lot more legitimate? It’s just as fake as the one above. Made it here.

How To Tell What is Real

First of all, don’t check online to determine if something is real. I’m serious, the internet is full of false information. Ask a local expert or email a university professor or read a book by a trusted author with expertise in the subject. False information is everywhere, and it is nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction.

I wish I could make it more apparent. Unless you are an expert, you cannot tell what is real and what is fake online. I wish there was a way to demonstrate this to you, and hopefully the images in this article convey that message.

This image was generated by a computer, for free. Try it yourself here. If you cannot understand how this person does not exist, you cannot tell real from fake information online. Be careful out there.

Conclusion

Most things online are not what they seem. Your local protest organizers may not be real people, and product reviews could be completely generated from a computer. Technology is advancing faster than most can keep up, and for that reason it’s important to look at everything online extremely critically. Spend less time online, meet your neighbors, and learn how to cut down on phone usage. The internet is a miracle and technology has helped make the world a better place but it isn’t without consequences.


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