Attack of the Deepfakes

Surely they’ve invaded your screen by now: altered videos where words are put into a speaker’s mouth, replete with lip movements and voices that appear authentic. Leveraging AI technology, deepfakes have started a path to ubiquity along with their less elaborate relatives, videos altered or edited by more conventional means — videos slowed down or sped up just enough to make the speaker sound a bit tipsy or to make the actions depicted seem a bit more violent than what actually occurred in reality. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen Mark Zuckerberg, Nancy Pelosi and actor Kit Harington, who plays John Snow in Game of Thrones (I’ll let you search for this yourself due to offensive language) all victimized by this rapidly advancing technology.

While editing photos has literally become child’s play over the past years, deepfakes have recently made a big splash as the video equivalent. Although trained eyes may frequently question the authenticity of photos, videos have always elicited a higher degree of trust – until now. The age-old cliché of ‘seeing is believing’ has been fully upended.

Should you find yourself in the camp of thinking that deepfakes are still easy to spot, be assured that the technology is still in its infancy. It’s simply a matter of time before the altered videos will become virtually impossible to detect with the human eye.

So how do we combat deepfakes? Two new technologies are emerging to do so:

1) Detection Solutions

While conventional wisdom suggests deepfake detection is the appropriate solution, a recent article in The Verge raises serious questions about this approach. Drawing a very relevant analogy to computer viruses which are rapidly evolving to outwit virus scanners, deepfakes have hit a similar trajectory of outwitting detection software. This battle of one-upmanship promises to be constant, rendering any static deepfake detection technology virtually useless over time.

Universities and other organizations have recently announced new deepfake detection technologies with over 90% accuracy, like a recent breakthrough offering 92% accuracy. Forgetting for a moment that 92%+ accuracy is not an ideal number (would you be pleased if your automobile or mobile phone worked 92% of the time?), a more unnerving aspect is that even the creators of deepfake detection acknowledge the accuracy of their detection techniques is degrading rapidly as deepfake technology advances. So what can be done?

2) Traceability solutions

Emerging alternatives to detection are blockchain solutions that can register original and authentic video assets on a distributed ledger, either from the point when they are created or at least from a well-known, trusted point of origination. An example of the former might be an original video that is registered on the ledger at the point of creation. An example of the latter might be a video originating from a trusted newswire, whose reputation relies on the accuracy of their content.

Having the ability to trace the authenticity or origin of a video is valuable, and moreover, much faster and easier than a forensic analysis of all the bits of a video to detect tampering. Truth is, the time required for validation is essential. Consider a recent interview of Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri where he suggests that hours of displaying a deepfake video can result in millions of views and significant harm. Wouldn’t it be better to validate authenticity in seconds?

Who is responsible for detection and validation?

A more subtle question that arises when social platforms are thrust into the spotlight is whether it is truly the platforms’ responsibility to remove or censor deepfakes. Rather than open a potentially endless debate around the topic of deepfakes and free speech, wouldn’t it better if a typical consumer could discern a deepfake for themselves, via a universal solution? Surely, such a solution would largely avoid the ambitious and somewhat unrealistic suggestion to regulate every platform.

Consider a more compelling approach such as marrying traceability with self-authentication, where it becomes extremely straightforward for anyone to validate the video content in real-time. Unfortunately, some primitive approaches to self-authentication, such as watermarking, are not entirely secure and can obstruct video content. Instead, think how a web browser today can validate a secure website by checking its certificate in real-time, alerting you of any security issues, and you have the right idea. A simple, accessible, universal solution for important online video content represents a great starting point for addressing deepfakes.

While the debate and buzz around the best way to address deepfakes is bound to continue, what has become apparent is we are facing one of the biggest threats to video authenticity we could ever imagine. The threat calls for a thoughtful solution that can avoid unending technology escalations, free speech debates, and can rapidly re-establish order to a world that has become very dependent on video and media.

Why is Blockchain a Polarizing Technology?

Even though blockchain has continued to mature over the past years, the technology still elicits bifurcated views from purists, technologists, analysts and industry experts. Looking beyond the well-known cryptocurrency and payments use cases, opinion is particularly split on the usefulness of blockchain in the enterprise.

Case in point, a recent article in TechRepublic, titled “Your blockchain project is dumb, and likely to fail” highlights the overzealous use of blockchain, when applied to problems that can be solved by conventional technologies – think databases or trusted third parties. The article goes on to cite a Gartner report explaining that weak use cases are among the factors which prevent blockchain solutions from reaching production.

At the same time, a more recent article entitled “Blockchain Is Gaining Trust In The Enterprise” indicates that 83% of executives are seeing compelling use cases for blockchain technology. What’s more, the data indicates 40% of enterprises are willing to spend $5M or more on blockchain initiatives over the next 12 months. In case you are wondering if the subjects in this survey might be purists or outliers, consider this data comes from a sample of more than 1300 executives surveyed by Deloitte.

So what exactly gives?

Well, like any newer technology, blockchain tends to be overhyped at times. It’s not unusual for deployments to overreach into use cases where the benefits are somewhat questionable. But while some deployments of blockchain may seem needless, rest assured, others offer capabilities and value that could not be realized otherwise.

All of this begs the question: what are good reasons to use blockchain over conventional technologies? Here are three:

  1. Security: In many ways, blockchain is far more secure than conventional solutions. In spite of this, arguments tend to rage regarding the immutability of blockchain and related distributed ledger technologies. After all, it is possible to coerce a majority of nodes, miners, or stakeholders to collectively rewrite a ledger in spite of powerful consensus technology, with susceptibility increasing if the parties are trusted. However, when the consensus model is well-matched to the use case, the process of altering a distributed ledger is exponentially more difficult than conventional technologies, which often rely on privately secured databases managed by a single entity. Let’s not ignore that by decentralizing control from a single party, the risk of insider threats can be reduced.
  2. Cross-organizational validation of data or assets: Outside of siloed environments, data may be coming from numerous sources. Here, the issue of trust looms large and the need for validation becomes essential. A personal spreadsheet used by an individual is not a use case for blockchain. However, initiatives that involve aggregating data from outside agencies, providers or an ecosystem that may include consumers, make a strong case for validation of data via a shared distributed ledger – with far less need for trusted intermediaries.
  3. Efficiencies. Perhaps one of the overlooked benefits of distributed ledgers is that the infrastructure is shared by multiple internal or external groups and organizations. Beyond removing the need for duplicate infrastructure, public ledgers allow organizations to participate without having infrastructure of their own. This makes blockchain an enabler for organizations that lack the wherewithal to build their own infrastructure. Aside from infrastructure cost savings, let’s not forget that reduced reliance on intermediaries enables additional efficiencies.

In summary, and to answer the original question posed by this article, are some blockchain use cases questionable? Yes. Are there blockchain use cases that enable capabilities previously unavailable from conventional technologies? Yes. Will folks continue to be polarized regarding the usefulness of blockchain? You can bet on it.

The Intersection of Digital Transformation and Blockchain

While it’s natural to view Digital Transformation as a buzzword “du jour,” recent reports show the US is operating at less than 20% of its digital potential. If you find that number distressing, you may be even more surprised at some of the industry sectors that have been found to be lagging in their digital initiatives. Consider a recent March 2019 article that cites banks and insurers falling behind in their digital transformation initiatives according to a Capgemini study.

Citing a few specifics from the study, only 41% of executives and 33% of total respondents indicated confidence in support the digitization of their business. What may be even more telling is that the same survey in 2012 yielded a 51% and 41% confidence from executive and total respondents, respectively, demonstrating a concerning downward trend.

A second article reflecting on the same study data suggests the low confidence may be due to the lack of skills, leadership and vision to enact necessary change. Taking a closer look at results from the insurance industry, only 30% of insurance responders feel they have the right digital capabilities for improving customer experience. In line with that, only 35% of surveyed insurance organizations used mobile channels and apps to provide customer service at the time of the 2018 study.

Given the millennial generation has grown up using technology, it should be no surprise that the convenience of using a mobile phone for all types of transactions represents table stakes for consumer-facing businesses. Surely lack of confidence in digitizing a business is not a viable reason to ignore the transition that is happening.

While the declining data paints a relatively bleak picture, you might wonder if diminishing returns may have stagnated some digital transformation initiatives over the past few years. While many areas of the businesses surveyed may have remained in the so-called “dark ages,” could it have been a result of marginal returns with respect to the ambitious efforts required? If that is indeed the case, what can help rekindle progress toward digital modernization?

Well, it’s not unusual that every few years a game changing technology arrives that can drive modernization. Let’s consider blockchain, or more generally, distributed ledger technology. While blockchain may be best known as a technology for electronic funds transfer, such as Bitcoin, the underlying network offers an immutable ledger that can be shared within and across organizations. Perhaps what’s most intriguing is organizations can partake of the benefits, without having to own or run the technology.

While pundits may be quick to point out potential vulnerabilities of blockchain, such as the highly unlikely potential to sway the majority of miners/nodes to break the powerful consensus model, it may be worth transcending such discussions to consider the potential benefits the technology brings to the table. After all, like any new technology, risks and gaps are rapidly being addressed.

Consider instead that blockchain possesses a couple of key attributes to help enable and accelerate digital transformation:

  • In the case of public or even consortium-based blockchain, the skills and leadership to deploy digital innovation no longer have to reside within an organization. Instead blockchain democratizes a consistent ledger for sharing and communication, only requiring organizations to plug in rather than building and deploying the infrastructure themselves. This means organizations of any size can enjoy the benefits, a hallmark of a disruptor
  • The game changing functionality that blockchain delivers in the fintech or insurance sectors is of substantial magnitude. Whether we talk about efficiency of fund transfers and payments in the finance industry or validation and sharing of digital assets for the insurance industry, immediate benefits are available to any industry organization that participates. Interestingly, with these benefits come aspects of modernization that may have been abandoned in the past, such as fully digitized customer experience that can build upon the ledger

Ultimately, blockchain may create new urgency for organizations to digitize and modernize their infrastructure. A recent CB insights article articulates how blockchain can disrupt the insurance industry, with one of the strongest value propositions being eliminating or reducing the over $40B in annual insurance fraud. Organizations who ignore such benefits will ultimately be left behind, losing business to their competitors who have already adopted.

With blockchain, we find ourselves at a crossroads of a new technology that organizations are being forced to decide on. Perhaps some organizations have already figured out how it figures into accelerating digital transformation initiatives, while other have largely ignored it as noise. The implications of embracing this technology can impact numerous operational business aspects from internal systems to customer interactions, and ultimately may dictate who will be the industry leaders of the future.

Drawing a familiar parallel, back in 2008, I co-founded a cloud company where we urged customers to adopt or find themselves at a disadvantage to their competitors who do. It is rather evident to see the transformation that occurred 11 years later and who the winners are.

Once again, organizations face a similarly important adoption decision that could determine who will be the leaders and laggards in the years ahead. What will your decision be?

How reliant are we on photos and videos? Look no further than the Super Bowl

If you happened to be in front of a TV screen on the evening of February 3, chances are you might have tuned into the NFL Super Bowl. Whether you are a fan of football, the teams, the advertisements, or just succumbed to pressure from your peers, you likely spent some time affixed to this annual tradition.

Unlike last year, when the Super Bowl suffered an unexpected glitch for a period of 30 seconds or so, this year’s broadcast was fairly trouble free, aside from a few sparse outages, which caused the “Twitter-verse” to light up for those who were affected. It’s not unusual that a glitch during an important sports broadcast might spark a bit of outrage.

Truth is, we have become more than just accustomed to video that offers high quality, fidelity and reliability — we have grown dependent on it. The quality of the video streaming into our living room tends to be so good, that we sometimes see mistakes eluding the officiating staff on the field, as in the case of a recent playoff game some have tried to wipe from memory. Not surprisingly, these cases tend to cause a great deal of controversy.

In the football world, video replay is sometimes able to resolve such controversies. After all, it follows the expectation that video is reliable, accurate, authentic and can be the final word in settling areas of dispute.

As it turns out, the expectation around video is no different for organizations, industries or government agencies that rely on photo and media technology on a regular basis. Like the football example, photos and videos, when accurate and authentic, can resolve disputes or contention. Such is the case with:

  • Dashcam videos: identifying the precise cause of an auto accident
  • Baseline photos: documenting the condition of a car or home. Think of a rental car or rental property where it would be good to document pre-existing damage

However, when photos and videos are of questionable accuracy and authenticity, they can pose a great deal of harm. Consider the impact of tainted photos or videos in the case of:

  • Police or surveillance videos: which become part of the evidence presented in a trial whose outcome can affect the livelihood of one or many individuals
  • Medical imaging: which drives diagnoses and treatments which can be life-saving for patients
  • Social media or news sites: which drive people’s perception and can cause a lot of confusion

The problem is that not all photos and videos originate from a single trusted source. Moreover, no matter the origin, digital media can easily be altered by photo editing tools, AI or deepfakes.

Thankfully, we have reached a point where technology can establish the authenticity and accuracy of photos and videos. How is this done? By registering photos and videos at the point of creation on a distributed ledger or blockchain, a virtually immutable structure. Combining registration with the ability to validate the authenticity and chain of custody of the media, without the need for forensic expertise, is a game changer. Translation? With new technology, anyone can easily determine whether a photo or video is authentic or has been tampered.

Expect this technology to first appear in industries, organizations and government agencies where authenticity and chain of custody matter most. No doubt, you can anticipate this technology to eventually make its way into your own home.

Now if we could just get those officials to always make the right call…

Are fake photos and videos a looming epidemic?

Have you ever found yourself questioning the veracity of a photo or video that you saw online? If the answer is yes, that likely puts you in the majority of the population.

If your best method of analyzing a suspicious photo or video is a critical stare in an attempt to spot inconsistencies, that may not serve you well much longer.

I invite all of you to read my recently posted LinkedIn article entitled Real or Fake? How we landed on the cusp of an epidemic and how it can be solved in 2019. While writing the article and taking a moment to ponder just how much of an epidemic fake photos and videos have become, an old colleague of mine shared a recent article from Wired regarding how AI is being used to fake images. The implications of AI-assist for editing photos and videos suggest we are rapidly advancing to the point where faking photos is moving out of the realm of the expert photographer or creative technologist and into a realm where nearly anyone can use AI to alter an image. Just as importantly, the tampering is becoming harder and harder to detect.

Take a look at the article and visit our solutions page to see what we are doing to help organizations avoid this potentially costly problem. And let us know: do you think fake photos and video are a looming epidemic?

Why the value of cryptocurrency does not diminish the value of distributed ledger technology

Having followed the meteoric surge and subsequent drop in cryptocurrency prices over the past couple of years, one might be tempted to conclude that the underlying technology, blockchain or other distributed ledgers, are to blame for the implosion of cryptocurrency pricing we are suddenly experiencing.

In reality, this could not be farther from the truth, as the underlying blockchain technology has proven to be highly reliable over the course of this rise and fall in crypto pricing. Other factors, such as change in investor sentiment (there was a bubble after all), tightening government regulation on ICOs and the inability of existing tokenized currencies to functionally replace fiat currencies for payments are all substantially to blame for the recent drops in prices of cryptocurrencies.

That said, the somewhat wild distraction of crypto pricing fluctuations does not impede the use of distributed ledger technology for building a new breed of decentralized applications for the enterprise. Not only has distributed ledger technology proven to be operationally solid, it enables huge benefits ranging from non-repudiation, new sharing economies outside the boundaries of organizations and a promise of a future where trusted networks and smart contracts can replace the costly intermediaries we rely on a regular basis.

Enter companies like Attestiv, that help solve the difficult problem of provenance of photos and media in a way that requires no forensic analysis or expertise, maintains chain of custody and helps reduce costs while lessening reliance on intermediaries. This is where the enterprise value of blockchain technology begins to shine. It’s enterprise solutions that promise to catapult distributed ledger technology from an intriguing payment system, that may or may not ultimately replace fiat currency, to a technology staple that will become mandatory for many organizations over the next several years.

While enterprise adoption will unlikely happen overnight, distributed ledger technology is ready today and quickly evolving into easily consumable applications for organizations of all sizes and even individuals. Is there more work to be done? You bet. Over the coming months, expect to see tremendous improvements in the scale and economics of distributed ledger networks and the co-application of new technologies such as AI.

It’s an exciting time and we invite you on this transformational journey that will make distributed ledger technology an IT revolution!