Most companies will do anything to promote diversity short of implementing the systemic changes required to become diverse. And for brands looking to appear diverse without doing any of the pesky work of becoming diverse, AI-generated images offer all the appearances of including POC and women without the headache of including living humans in businesses.
According to the Washington Post, machine-generated compilations of human faces are coming to a brochure near you thanks to newer, cheaper AI technology that uses thousands of photos of human faces in order to create convincing mock-ups. These images are then available for sale to anyone who needs a human-esque shape to create advertising content, diverse-looking brochures, or a fake Facebook profile to convince your Aunt Mary that Russia is paying Elizabeth Warren to hide Hillary’s servers in the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington D.C.
One Argentinian AI startup called Icons8 sells a subscription package for fake images that employs filters that offer photos ranging from “infant” to “elderly,” and offers ethnicity options such as “White,” “Latino,” “Asian” and “Black” as well as emotions from joy to despair.
The attempts to fake instead of make diversity have already begun. In June 2019, GQ ran a photo of a bunch of tech dudes in an Italian villa to which a woman (who is an actual living CEO) had dutifully been added for the sake of appearances.
Aside from the questionable ethics of using fake images to sell products to actual people—one AI image startup boasts a dating site as a client—is the source of these images. The technology can’t just conjure up a human face from nowhere. Instead, many of these companies rely on models who weren’t told ahead of time what their photos would be used for and aren’t paid extra for the fact that bits and pieces of their faces are being used thousands of times for purposes they never consented to.
Perhaps the only good thing about the coming days in which humans will no longer be able to trust their eyes is that we are due for some terrifying new monsters:
“But the systems are imperfect artists, untrained in the basics of human anatomy, and can only attempt to match the patterns of all the faces they’ve processed before. Along the way, the AI creates an army of what [Ivan Braun, co-founder of Icons8] calls “monsters”: Nightmarish faces pocked with inhuman deformities and surreal mutations. Common examples include overly fingered hands, featureless faces and people with mouths for eyes.”
Currently, the law has not caught up to the technology, and fakes are not required to have any watermarks to distinguish them from images of real people. Transparency is left up to companies’ discretion. Here is my proposal: for every passable human image, companies should be required to have one monster. Then, that fake diversity pamphlet becomes fun for everyone. And imagine the exciting possibilities for Tinder matches. Under my system, at least the scary future has an accurate face.