I’m of a certain age that puts in me in a generational gap space between Gen X and Millennial, though more toward the latter. I believe comedian Eliza Schlessinger put it best when she called herself and “elder millennial.” Being born when I was, I was lucky enough to be born when home computing, and computer tech in general, really started taking off.
From what I recall of my own life experiences, the “idea” of AI — artificial intelligence — wasn’t new at all by the time I was born. “2000: A Space Odyssey” was released twelve years before my birth, and that wasn’t the first time the idea of man-made, computerized intelligence had entered our public dialogue. Going back almost to the beginning of recorded history, we’ve written stories about machines that thought and spoke of their own accord.
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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched AI go from the stuff of terminators and sentient stunt cars named K.I.T.T. to an actual computer that could kick anyone’s ass at chess, to the army of bots that props up our president’s ego on Twitter every time he rage tweets. I’m a huge Star Wars nerd, so my hope is that one day AI makes it possible to have protocol and astromech droids help us out around the house.
AI can and will be harnessed in the future to automate everything from cars to traffic lights, and everything in between. It’s a seriously advanced tool to get some seriously complex tasks completed. One website is using AI for purely outrageously hilarious means, though.
ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com takes a massive catalog of real images and synthesizes new amalgamated versions using that library every time you refresh. It’s a random face generator like you’ve never seen before.
The site is the creation of Philip Wang, a software engineer at Uber, and uses research released last year by chip designer Nvidia to create an endless stream of fake portraits. The algorithm behind it is trained on a huge dataset of real images, then uses a type of neural network known as a generative adversarial network (or GAN) to fabricate new examples. (The Verge)
The underlying tech behind this new site is an open source program that can also be used to synthesize a new product from a few different image types like fonts or even graffiti.
The underlying AI framework powering the site was originally invented by a researcher namedIan Goodfellow. Nvidia’s take on the algorithm, named StyleGAN, was made open source recently and has proven to be incredibly flexible. Although this version of the model is trained to generate human faces, it can, in theory, mimic any source. Researchers are already experimenting with other targets. including anime characters,fonts, and graffiti.
Here are a couple of the faces I got when I used the site:
One benign but cool use of this technology might be for artists who conjure far off worlds to create those world out of images of our own. Another might be to give parents an idea of what their children might look like one day.
Of course, there are some truly frightening things that can happen as AI tech lets people create “deepfake” content that looks more and more believable. While Hollywood can use this content for “good,” who’s to say an authoritarian government won’t use the technology to lie to their people and, oh, I don’t know, fabricate a crisis on their southern border to justify stealing billions of dollars from other projects to build a wall no one really wants or needs?
All of a sudden, if a leader with a dictatorial streaks wants to create evidence out of whole cloth for whatever dastardly thing he has planned, this kind of tech could, one day, make that process much easier for him. For now though, let’s just sit back and refresh the page on thispersondoesnotexist.com and enjoy the freakishly real looking face we’re shown of people who really do not exist.
Writer/comedian James Schlarmann is the founder of The Political Garbage Chute and his work has been featured on The Huffington Post. You can follow James on Facebook and Instagram, but not Twitter because he has a potty mouth.