Viral photo of pope Francis in puffy coat shows the dangers of realistic AI
Perhaps you’ve seen a photo of Pope Francis wearing a puffy white coat circling around the Internet. It was the first thing I saw today while scrolling Instagram and sipping my morning coffee – and it almost went through my nose. the coffee, not the picture.
Of course, it’s fake, 100% AI-generated. But it turns out that many people thought it was real. This includes me, who didn’t remember to check the hands in the tiny image on my phone screen. And it illustrates perfectly why AI-generated images, no matter how fun they are, can be dangerous in a world filled with fake news.
[Related reading: Levi’s using AI generated ‘models’ to sell clothes instead of real humans]
I first spotted the photo on the Instagram page @iwantoleaveok, but then I learned that it originally appeared on Twitter. A user named Leon (@skyferrori) shared it, and retweets and comments just exploded.
— leon (@skyferrori) March 25, 2023
It took some time before Twitter added a disclaimer under the photo, reading that “this is an AI-generated image of Pope Francis” and that “it is not a genuine photo.” But the damage had already been done. People on Twitter seem to have figured out that it was an AI creation, but the photo has spread elsewhere, and not everyone realized that it was fake. But before we jump into why that could be dangerous, I’m sharing with you some Twitter comments that cracked me up. I’m thankful I wasn’t drinking anything while scrolling through these.
— Vacation Dad (@VernorsHerzog) March 25, 2023
90 minutes before a fancy restaurant loses one of its Pope stars pic.twitter.com/3YsCb3Aqzk
— IDK Your BFF Rose (@rose_of_tx) March 25, 2023
If we pan down we’d see the boots, honey! Get the boots! pic.twitter.com/Vc6cDBpSnl
— David Ligon (@VanLigon) March 25, 2023
Pope gonna shoot a music video with Puff Daddy?
Or the StayPuft Marshmallow Man?
— KC_Clarkson (@RoyHAL_9000) March 25, 2023
— leticiellen (@Lettsbullshits) March 25, 2023
The dangers of realistic AI-generated photos
There has always been fake news, and it seems to me that it started spreading more than ever during COVID lockdowns. It usually was authentic images put in the wrong contexts. But now that we have AI-generated images, and they’re getting better, it’s getting more difficult to figure out what’s real. Even with the weird hands and other telltale features, most of us skim through those images. And AI is getting improved rapidly, so even those recognizable weird hands are not an issue anymore. In addition, we often only see images on small phone screens, so it’s difficult to spot the details anyway.
All this opens doors for plenty of false news, and they can lead to different outcomes. In extreme cases, things like this can lead to tragedy, but let me elaborate on that.
An image of any religious leader with swag is something to chuckle at and forget after a day or two, in my opinion. However, hardcore believers would probably disagree with me. This made me remember Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015 and John Lennon’s murder, both done in the name of whichever “god.”
Now imagine someone goofing around with AI, creating and sharing images that mock religion, religious leaders, or (former) nation leaders like Donald Trump. I’ll leave it to your imagination how it can become unpleasant (at the least), if not tragic. My imagination is wild – I had two stalkers and some serious threats and actions from them, so I know what some people are capable of. And I wasn’t even mocking their god, their leaders, or them.
Another issue is, well, fake photos and fake news on their own. Hyper-realistic images like this make it harder and harder to weed out what’s real and what’s not. There still are ways to tell something’s fake, but honestly, it’s getting harder.
And last but definitely not least, AI creations open doors to overly sexualized fake images or even nonconsensual nudes. While text-to-image generators do their best to steer clear of “dirty” images, they still have hiccups. It’s not that hard to make at least a hyper-sexualized image of your ex, even if he or she never actually sent you one or had you take it.
So, to conclude – have fun with AI and text-to-image generators by all means! It is fun, and I love playing with it too. But on the one hand, be careful of what you publish. And on the other – keep your eyes and minds open so you are not fooled by fake images and fake news.
[via Ars Technica]
Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.