Hyper-realistic masks can fool us just like in Mission: Impossible

More human than human.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Research Rob Jenkins holds a hyper-realistic mask.

University of York

The wily agents in Mission: Impossible make it a habit to fool their enemies by wearing realistic face masks as disguises. Mask technology has now gotten to a point where those storylines aren't so impossible after all.

Researchers with the University of York in the UK and Kyoto University in Japan discovered that hyper-realistic silicone masks made to mimic everything from freckles to wrinkles to hair can trick us into thinking they are real people. 

The study, published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Investigations on Wednesday, involved showing participants from the UK and Japan pairs of photographs, one with a regular person and one with a person wearing the silicone mask. The participants had to pick out which one was a mask, but they got it wrong 20% of the time. 

"In our study, participants had several advantages over ordinary people in everyday life. We made it clear to participants that their task was to identify the mask in each pair of images and we showed them example masks before the test began," said psychologist Rob Jenkins from the University of York in a release on Wednesday.

The researchers expect real-world error rates would be higher since people might not be aware of how realistic masks can be. The BBC reported on a crime earlier this year that involved a person wearing a mask to impersonate a French minister.

We may start seeing more instances like that one. "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," said study researcher Jet Sanders

This goes to show you could be staring right at Tom Cruise and won't even know it.

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