People have practiced deception since the dawn of mankind. Many of the laws we have on the books are meant to discourage and punish deception. There are laws against forgery, securities fraud, tax evasion, and providing false testimony. Those laws wouldn’t be needed if the deceptions had not been prevalent. But let’s also recognize that in many areas of society and entertainment, deception is embraced and celebrated. For instance, in sports there are plays, like the fake punt, designed based upon deception. In card games, good players are adept at bluffing and recognized as such. There are innumerable books and movies in the mystery genre that attempt to keep the audience guessing who the villain is until the very end. And it is almost a foregone conclusion that many, if not most, politicians from all parties have no plan to fulfill their campaign promises.
With the introduction of digital systems and the advancement in digital technologies there are new types of deception. We now need to worry about online identity theft. Social media accounts can be hacked, and comments and posts attributed to individuals who never made those statements. Added to this is the capability of creating deep fakes that can fabricate a false digital record which includes visual and audio content that cannot be distinguished from real footage and tape.
However, as already noted, deception was prevalent in society before the introduction of digital technology. The digital technologies are a new and powerful set of tools, but they still require a person to use them for deception. The digital technology does not create the environment for deception, that environment already exists. But like with so many other industries and activities, digital transformation makes it easier and faster to create deceptions and enables the quality of those deceptions to be much greater.
But it isn’t all bad news. One of the by-products of digital transformation is that industry and society become data rich. There is now an incredible amount of data created and collected on individuals, processes, and organizations. With the improved processing power, analytics, and AI tools available, inconsistencies can be identified. An individual or organization that attempts to deceive by saying one thing and doing another can be discovered by examining their digital record. It is much more difficult to sustain a deception.
In addition, there are new digital technologies, such as Blockchain, that was specifically developed to create a decentralized and incorruptible transaction history. There are further advances being made with digital signatures and biometrics to ensure that when access to a system is granted to an individual, it is the correct individual. These digital tools are detecting and preventing deception.
So where does this leave us? It comes back to the morals of the individual and the standards imposed by the peer pressure of society. When lying, stealing, cheating, and deception are glorified, there will be an increase in deception and the deceivers will use all tools available to them. When society and peer pressure reject and punish those who deceive, there will be less use of technology to deceive. The issue is not a technology issue, it is an issue of society and cultural morals.
If society decides to place a high value on truth and to punish deception, there are a few elements related to digital transformation that could support this societal change.
- Transactional Truth: Incorporate Blockchain into all public transactions. This includes contracting, permitting, and taxation at the level of corporate interaction with governments. At the individual level it should include government benefits transactions, voting and tax filings.
- Conversational Accountability: Commercial platforms open for public discourse and discussion should enact policies to ensure that only real individuals or organizations (no bots) can gain access to the platform. Further, any information posted must be sourced to the reference or clearly noted that it is the providers opinion.
- Impactful Consequences: Identity theft should be treated as serious felony (on par with forgery and extortion). Individuals and organizations that do not cooperate in identify theft prosecutions should be prosecuted as co-conspirators.
Given the current state of culture and society in western civilizations, it is doubtful that any of these would be adopted. It is more likely that deceptions will continue to grow and become both more elaborate and destructive. Digital technologies will likely be used, but they are not the cause of deception, they are merely a tool in the deceiver’s hand.
Raymond Sheen, PMP® LSS BB, is president and founder of Product & Process Innovation, Inc. He is a veteran business leader with over 30 years of executive, engineering management, and project management experience deploying new technology and improving business performance. He has consulted and trained companies in various industries and business functions including marketing, engineering, manufacturing, service, IT, and Finance. Ray is author of the book, Guide to Building Your Business Case, published by Harvard Business Review Press. Ray received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Air Force Academy and his M.S. in Astronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has a graduate certificate in Digital Leadership and Strategy from Boston University.