‘Hyper-realistic’ masks fool a fifth of people, say researchers

Modern “hyper realistic” masks can be so convincing that people often can’t distinguish them from a real face, say researchers.

The latest masks can cost around £1,000 and experts say they could be increasingly exploited by criminals as a disguise.

In the study, 240 people in Japan and the UK looked at pairs of photos to try to spot which showed a face and which showed a mask. They were fooled in a fifth of cases.

Dr Rob Jenkins, from the psychology department at the University of York, said: “The real-world error rate is likely to be much higher because many people may not even be aware hyper-realistic masks exist and are unlikely to be looking out for them.

“The current generation of masks is very realistic indeed with most people struggling to tell an artificial face from the real thing.”

A con artist – or artists – last year managed to scam millions of euros after using a silicone mask to impersonate France’s defence minister.

Dressed and masked as Jean-Yves Le Drian, they used Skype calls to convince wealthy victims to give them cash to pay foreign ransoms.

Criminals have long used masks to try to conceal their identity or age, but the researchers who carried out the study say the growing realism is a concern.

“Failure to detect synthetic faces may have important implications for security and crime prevention as hyper-realistic masks may allow the key characteristics of a person’s appearance to be incorrectly identified,” said Dr Jet Sanders.

“These masks currently cost around £1,000 each and we expect them to become more widely used as advances in manufacturing make them more affordable.”

The research was done by the universities of York and Kyoto and is published in Cognitive Research: Principles And Implications.

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