PARIS â€" This summer, like every year, weâ€™ll take more and more photos. Weâ€™ll send selfies and snapshots, any and all kinds of pictures and videos. Like 64% of French people recently surveyed, weâ€™ll take photographs of the meals we're about to eat at restaurants. These tens of billions of shots will be added to the colossal amount of images amassed in just a few years.
There was a time, in the history of mankind, when there were a lot more humans than pictures on Earth. They were rare, precious, magical, possessing powers of good or evil. Theyâ€™ve since proliferated, become emancipated, uncountable â€" and common. Maybe not common as such, considering the way they have quietly taken over culture. This transformation deserves to be explored.
At first, there was distrust. Plato had great contempt for images, and this fueled a long tradition. For him, nothing is further away from reality than images. His reasoning is easy to understand, even though it can seem somewhat strange today. The closest thing to reality ... are Ideas, those eternal Forms, which, according to Plato, serve as models for things.
In this way, the "real" bed is also the idea of a bed, the abstract definition of a horizontal plane where one can lie down to sleep. All tangible beds â€" made out of wood, metal, with or without feet, rectangular or square â€" are only reflections, images, derivatives of this ideal reality. The carpenter "copies" the idea of a bed, makes an image of it out of wood. If the painter, in his turn, then reproduces this wooden bed on canvas, he makes an image of an image, a third-level sub-reality (first: the Form, second: the thing, third: the painting of the thing).
Why is this dangerous? The better the image of the painting, the more it distances us, according to Platoâ€™s point of view. Instead of pulling us out of appearances, it pushes us further into them, makes us believe that distant copies are real. Philosophy is meant to release us from images, free us from reflections, bring us out of the cave-jail, where we think appearances are reality. Paintings and their images are meant to do the exact opposite: They bind us to illusions, imprison us in subterfuges. This philosophical refusal is more than a mere depreciation of pictorial creations. It shows, in its own way, that there is, in images, a power to control, something that is far from harmless.
All idol breakers have known this and said this. These iconoclasts (literally, "destroyers of images") can be found, for different reasons, in the history of Judaism, Byzantine Christianity, Islam, Protestantism. Beyond their differences, they have a common intuition: images capture something, divert, deviate that which is essential. We arrive at a point where we barely understand the real thing anymore, submerged in our multitudes of pixels, copies, endless tricks. And still, without ruling in favor of fanatic rigorism, we would do well to realize that images have freed themselves by multiplying. And that theyâ€™ve built an empire.
In this way, we are seeing, with astonishment and anxiety, that nothing, in the visual field, is absolutely true or reliable anymore: all images can be edited, rebuilt, rendered older or young. Even archives are plagued by doubt. A Rembrandt that Rembrandt never painted has just been made, through digital analysis and reconstruction of his strokes, his themes, his pigments.
We are also stunned to see that pictures are starting to truly replace words. "Pic speech" is becoming the digital childhood illness. We no longer talk to each other, we send pictures: Show me what youâ€™re doing, Iâ€™ll send you a picture of what Iâ€™m eating ...
More seriously, we have gotten used to seeing the world according to images. Walter Benjamin pointed out, in the 1930s, how a sunset made us think of a postcard. Since then, weâ€™ve come a long way. Landscapes bring pictures to our minds, and not the opposite. We even sometimes think nature has bad taste or that it does well when it imitates our creations.
This is, in broad terms, what the empire of images looks like. It would also be absurd to think we can escape this. Living in it without being naive is a start.
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
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