Forget Deep Fakes. Watch for Shallow Fakes

December 6, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

A Tech Conference Listed Fake Speakers for Years: I Accidentally Noticed” revealed a factoid about which I knew absolutely zero. The write up reveals:

For 3 years straight, the DevTernity conference listed non-existent software engineers representing Coinbase and Meta as featured speakers. When were they added and what could have the motivation been?

The article identifies and includes what appear to be “real” pictures of a couple of these made-up speakers. What’s interesting is that only females seem to be made up. Is that perhaps because conference organizers like to take the easiest path, choosing people who are “in the news” or “friends.” In the technology world, I see more entities which appear to be male than appear to be non-males.


Shallow fakes. Deep fakes. What’s the problem? Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Nice art which you achieved exactly how? Oh, don’t answer that question. I don’t want to know.

But since I don’t attend many conferences, I am not in touch with demographics. Furthermore, I am not up to speed on fake people. To be honest, I am not too interested in people, real or fake. After a half century of work, I like my French bulldog.

The write up points out:

We’ve not seen anything of this kind of deceit in tech – a conference inventing speakers, including fake images – and the mainstream media covered this first-of-a-kind unethical approach to organizing a conference,

That’s good news.

I want to offer a handful of thoughts about creating “fake” people for conferences and other business efforts:

  1. Why not? The practice went unnoticed for years.
  2. Creating digital “fakes” is getting easier and the tools are becoming more effective at duplicating “reality” (whatever that is). It strikes me that people looking for a short cut for a diverse Board of Directors, speaker line up, or a LinkedIn reference might find the shortest, easiest path to shape reality for a purpose.
  3. The method used to create a fake speaker is more correctly termed ka “shallow” fake. Why? As the author of the cited paper points out. Disproving the reality of the fakes was easy and took little time.

Let me shift gears. Why would conference organizers find fake speakers appealing? Here are some hypotheses:

  1. Conferences fall into a “speaker rut”; that is, organizers become familiar with certain speakers and consciously or unconsciously slot them into the next program because they are good speakers (one hopes), friendly, or don’t make unwanted suggestions to the organizers
  2. Conference staff are overworked and understaffed. Applying some smart workflow magic to organizing and filling in the blanks spaces on the program makes the use of fakery appealing, at least at one conference. Will others learn from this method?
  3. Conferences have become more dependent on exhibitors. Over the years, renting booth space has become a way for a company to be featured on the program. Yep, advertising, just advertising linked to “sponsors” of social gatherings or Platinum and Gold sponsors who get to put marketing collateral in a cheap nylon bag foisted on every registrant.

I applaud this write up. Not only will it give people ideas about how to use “fakes.” It will also inspire innovation in surprising ways. Why not “fake” consultants on a Zoom call? There’s an idea for you.

Stephen E Arnold, December 6, 2023


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