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Fake? Worse! It’s a meme

This photo circulated on the web in the last week generating a lot of angry comments. It is not a photo, it is a photoshopped image of Michael Bennet. Credit: Wired

I just read an interesting, and thought provoking article, on Wired.  My reading came after a few months of headlines reporting on the problem of fake news, the latest referring to the terrible shooting that took place in Las Vegas.

In Wired the journalist takes a different tack. The photo represented Michael Bennet, a football player of the Seattle Seahawks, burning a flag. If you took just a little time looking at the photo you could spot several signs that would tell you it is a fake, the result of a Photoshop manipulation.

Now looking at that photo a person could be incredulous and look for signs revealing a fake. Apparently most of the people choose to take the photo for real, never questioning it.
In the article the journalist arguments that people did not questioned the image because they “wanted” to believe it. The photo was not representing something “out-there”, rather it was a reflection of what they want to believe. It was a “meme”. A “meme” is an idea that moves from person to person belonging to a same culture. It flows seamlessly because it is part of that culture, and as such no-one question it.

The real photo on the left and the fake one on the right. Credit: Wired

The digital world has blurred the boundaries between what is real and what is fictional. Even worse. we have got so used to the fictional world of bits, sometimes mirroring so well the world of atoms, that we are now considering this world as real as the other.
Manipulation of reality has always happened, it is just that in the world of bits manipulation is so much easier. We should become more suspicious and part of this should be mirrored onto ourselves. Sometimes we are just looking for an excuse to reinforce what we feel or believe, or we would like to believe.

I found the article intriguing because it brings each one of us into the world of bits and makes us responsible of what we choose to believe.

The situation is bound to get worse as technology will further blur the boundaries of atoms and bit, multiplying the time we spend in the cyberspace and making it even more convincing and real. Augmented reality will more and more morph into reality. Having trusted sources will be more and more important in the future. Having AI that can help us sorting out reality from artefacts will be a main goal in the next decade, even though it might seem peculiar to rely on “bits” to fight the “bits”.
It is also important to realise the impact of the cyberspace on the digital generation and to dedicate constant effort in helping our kids to develop a critical spirit, a major goal and challenge for education.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.