The ability of AI to generate fake visuals is not yet mainstream knowledge, but a new website — ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com — offers a quick and persuasive education.
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.
“Each time you refresh the site, the network will generate a new facial image from scratch,” wrote Wang in a Facebook post. He added in a statement to Motherboard: “Most people do not understand how good AIs will be at synthesizing images in the future.”
The underlying AI framework powering the site was originally invented by a researcher named Ian 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.
As we’ve discussed before at The Verge, the power of algorithms like StyleGAN raise a lot of questions. On the one hand there are obvious creative applications for this technology. Programs like this could create endless virtual worlds, as well as help designers and illustrators. They’re already leading to new types of artwork.
Then there are the downsides. As we’ve seen in discussions about deepfakes (which use GANs to paste people’s faces onto target videos, often in order to create non-consensual pornography), the ability to manipulate and generate realistic imagery at scale is going to have a huge effect on how modern societies think about evidence and trust. Such software could also be extremely useful for creating political propaganda and influence campaigns.
In other words, ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com is just the polite introduction to this new technology. The rude awakening comes later.