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Caseythoughts On occasion I wonder if I might have chosen another name for this column. My favorite editor (well, I have encouragers, but only one editor) suggested the simple 'Thoughts' which made a lot more sense than my original idea. But sometimes I wonder if the title 'Connections' might have made the grade, as well. That's after looking at what gets my brain going during the week as I look and 'connect' disparate news and opinions, trying to make sense out of what would upon initial perusal seem unconnected, or in my case sometimes obtuse connections not always obvious. Tenuous connections, you might say.

One of these connections begins with an admission, a confession if you wish. I receive in my email almost daily a roster of photographs, entitled "Here are your new matches!', from the famous Web site Now, I'm not a paying member, and I am legitimately entitled to 'use' it, although I also admit it I filled out the questionnaire reluctantly and since have realized that the reason I don't let them have my credit card number is because I'm really not capable of rejoining that world that they are espousing and enabling.

In other words, I am fairly certain that I am old, cranky, and (choose one or more) obstreperous, opinionated, outdated, outrageous? Or, maybe I'm just not, nor ever will be ready, to actually dive into the world of 'single-ness' ever again. I am fascinated by the thought that perhaps those people who put their photos on this site with personal 'thumbnails' and quiet descriptions are doing the same: maybe they don't want to dive in either, they just look at the photos and say, no, I really can't, for maybe one or more big reasons and a myriad of smaller de-motivating factors.

Heck, I don't even know how to upload a photo of me, anyway, even if I had one (the Lansing Star's photo is from several years ago). My personal info is on the up and up, truthful and not evasive. And I still wonder about the people everyday who are in my mailbox as "Here are your newest Matches...Give them a nudge!" Beauty is truly only skin deep, I am sure. But, here comes the first of at least two 'connections'.

Reading the latest edition of Wired (just to scare myself, sometimes), I turn to two pages of one hundred photos of people. Portraits, if you wish, facial close-ups and posed, all smiling, all colors, shapes, genders, ethnicities. What's the trick? Only one of these hundred photos is 'real'; the other ninety nine have been generated by machine learning algorithms. Try to pick out the 'real' one. Fake. Bots. Nada humanity. Conjured up by a program. Yikes.

University of Washington professors Jevin West and Carl Bergstrom created an online game called 'Which Face is Real?' which pairs a real photo with a 'fake' computer generated smiling visage such as the ones cited above. After six million rounds with a half million people playing the 'game', they were somewhat amazed at the results. On average, the 'players' were able to spot fake vs real about sixty percent of the time, sometimes citing inaccuracies in the photos which the computer generated fakes were subject to. The bad news is that with repeated practice, no one was able to rise above a seventy five percent correct score. At best, one out of four photos foiled us.

The program developing the fake 'photos' was invented by Nividia which trained on a massive data set of portraits and a neural network which became capable of mimicking striking images of non-existent people. The one hundred photos on the Wired pages were just so real, and were the most commonly mistaken for 'real'. And there, I began to wonder about photos on dating sites like, and of course the fakery that is becoming commonplace on certain 'news' sites on the Web. After staring at the photos and realizing what is so possible now, I found looking at photos of people to be distressing as I looked for 'signs' of fakeness. Apparently, according to the researchers, fakeness can only become more and more difficult to spot as technology and artificial intelligence enter the mainstream. Even in the mundane world of dating apps. The younger set would probably react with a 'So what?' or 'Meh', but me...?

I turn to the concept of a high-trust society vs a low-trust society. A 'high trust' society was the initial promise of the Internet, wasn't it? Sociologists define a high trust society as 'one where you can expect most interactions to work'. (According to Zeynep Tufekci, which I hope is a real name, a contributor to Wired). It's not a perfect society, of course, but perceptions are important for social interactions at all levels to work smoothly 'most' of the time. A low trust society is one where trust is at a premium, and there are of course plenty of real time, real world examples in our modern world where trust has broken down, social interactions are distrusted: money has become close to valueless (worthless) social justice and crime are in the mix, too. Certainly these factors are relative: our society overall has more trustworthy interactions (credit, currency, retail, stock market, media, to an extent) than, say, Cuba, some countries in South America, Africa or the former Soviet Union.

But, the Internet is a society in itself and is ubiquitous. And it seems to me that the promise of a better, more open and honest world that we heard about in the early and mid-nineties that would result in a 'connected' world of the Internet has devolved very quickly into scams, Photoshop, dark Web sites, crypto-currency ripoffs and all of the ways humans have been able to bamboozle each other since communication began.

What do 'low trust' societies do in response or defense? They cannot stay the same, as they are bound to become progressively more deficient and dangerous socially and economically, for nothing works with no trust. These societies become a Wild West of lawlessness, anarchy, politically moving to extremes, dictators or mobsters, with no promise but to clean the mess up, fake promises of harmony and peace. That's of course, the worst case scenario, but it is not unknown. We're not there yet, right?

But, what about us in the most advanced and technologically proficient country of the 21st century? Our 'high trust society' appears to be slipping. We have our family and friend circles as small and close-knit society, we still have our hard working economy with advantage and opportunities, but are we more trusting or less trusting than, say, twenty or fifty years ago (a mere eye-blink in the scheme of societies and 'things')?

Public opinion polls have heralded for years the diminishing trust we have of Congress, the media, the occupants of the White House (party notwithstanding). Have the last twenty years of the ubiquitous Internet and its hocus-pocus hokum and myriad scams (remember how it would connect us all?), not to even consider the Russian scam of 2016, which I worry is child's play. And, in a more damaging aspect of this 'interconnectedness, the isolating characteristics that have shut off (not encouraged) connections between people. Have we begun the process from 'high trust' to a lower trust society? And, if this might even be true, what's next? What are the signs to look for? And how can we react to this slippage of trust which is so quiet, so pervasive and sneaky?

Shall we say that the Internet is 'fake'? Or, to quote again from the film 'Network': "...Good God, people, you are the reality, we (the media) are the illusion." If we've lost a bit of our collective humanity in the interest of 'progress', is there a way to regain, rebuild, that humanity that distinguishes us as unique, and individual, not AI generated photos meant to fake out other humans yearning and willing to trust?

One quick, sad note: Sergeant James Johnston has been brought home from Afghanistan to his final rest in Trumansburg. A Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and a flag draped casket. A mourning family, flags at half mast for a fallen hero. To don a uniform of America's military is an heroic act. Indeed.

I did a quick bit of math, and realized Sergeant Johnston was a five year old when the events of September 11th, 2001 crashed into our television sets, our psyche and our hearts. A five year old boy watching those buildings and humans burn, and eighteen years later dying in the country where those dastardly deeds of 9/11 supposedly had their genesis.

This weekend is Independence Day holiday, but Sergeant Johnston's family will for days, weeks, months ahead feel Memorial Day in their hearts and souls. When they spot a small flag at the head of a any grave they will remember their hero, their son and husband. May our country always have these heroes. Not just the men and women in uniform, but also their families who gave them the courage and love to give the ultimate gift to their country. God bless Sergeant Johnston, 24, and God bless his family.

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