Dave Sather writes a column about financial issues for the Victoria Advocate.

I recently showed my students a Kim Kardashian video. She was seductively discussing how she manipulated people’s data for money. During the clip, she said she owes it all to Spectre.

The students weren’t sure what to think. Very few realized the word “Spectre” should conjure up visions of James Bond battling his archnemesis.

However, this Spectre did not reference a criminal empire. Rather, this Spectre referenced using artificial intelligence and algorithms to scrape video and audio files of people and rebuilding composite likenesses that seem to say and do virtually anything. These are called “deepfakes.”

It’s funny to think about manipulating the likeness of Kim Kardashian. No one believes she is setting world policy on anything meaningful.

However, when this technology is used to morph the speech of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, making her sound inebriated, it’s easy to see how dangerous it can be.

It also makes you realize that what you thought you knew for sure may be an elaborate manipulation.

For decades, people sensed the evening news was filtered to an extent. There were news blackouts while some topics had “official talking points.”

We also know key words can be taken from dialogue. Words can be rearranged or omitted, significantly altering the meaning. It is still an honest statement that those words were said … just not in that order.

Just as deepfakes are very real-looking videos, similarly programmed algorithms are now “writing” articles and other stories that are complete works of fiction.

Knowing how manipulated and twisted the world is today, make a resolution when it comes to assessing news and information in general.

Every time someone says, “Oh, my God, did you hear what Trump (or Pelosi or Clinton or Elvis) said now?” my response is, “No. I wasn’t there to hear the entire, unedited and uninterrupted conversation.” Do not fall for a clever sound bite.

The goal is to gain a deeper, unfiltered, unedited understanding of events in the world. This is true whether discussing politics, religion, investing or anything else of value.

Neither the internet or cable TV is there to provide unbiased facts. Rather, they manipulate and steer behavior. The fewer questions you ask, the more you are at risk.

In thinking through this, focus on facts that can be analyzed so you derive deeper, independent conclusions.

Focus on the data. People will say and do funny, ironic and unintended things. Regardless of what they say, focus on the data. Data over long time frames will offer a better frame of reference for reality. It also indicates whether people are able to follow through on their statements.

Analyze information that is supposed to be factual and audited – like corporate financial statements. Regardless of whether you like a product or not, if you know how to interpret financial statements, there is a wealth of information springing forward.

When it comes to managing investments, the deeper the understanding from first-person sources, the better you’ll be able to develop a fair estimation of reality.

If we want a better understanding of a given company, higher-quality news sources are often industry trade data. For instance, if you want to learn about the Union Pacific Railroad, go to the website for the Association of American Railroads. It is densely packed full of great data.

Some of the greatest deceptions happen when people only go to one source for information. If you only go to Fox News or CNN for information, you will hear one version of reality. It will be a partial representation of what needs to be considered.

Even if it’s painful or annoying to consider opposing viewpoints, read multiple aspects of a given topic. Go to CNN, FOX, the Guardian, the Financial Times, the Washington Post, CNBC and the BBC. Determine if there is conflict in the different versions of a story and why.

Intentionally read opinions opposing your own. If you only read opinions or articles agreeing with you, you learn nothing new.

Instead, read an opposing opinion that forces you to consider the merits of another viewpoint. Even if it doesn’t change your opinion, it will help you see another person’s perspective on a given topic.

As the world of media spin and altered reality becomes increasingly convincing, there has never been a bigger need for critical thought and independent, fact-driven decision-making.

Dave Sather is a Victoria certified financial planner and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other week.

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(1) comment

Glenn Wilson

Directly or indirectly, our only source of data about current events is the mainstream media, and there's no frame of reference whatsoever by which to judge the accuracy of that information. The application of logic and critical thinking skills could help if there were any data available known to actually be accurate. No wonder everyone operates on confirmation bias. When our world becomes the "Matrix" style hologram our technology is leading us to nobody will even notice.

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