These AI-generated people are coming to kill stock photography

If you’ve ever looked at a prescription drug ad, and wondered to yourself whether that happy, mid-60s couple could possibly be real, well, that reality is about to get a whole lot more confusing to ponder. Because AI could soon encroach on the territory of those models, whether actors you see in ads or the models who sit for stock photography.

Generated Photos is a collection of 100,000 faces, all free to download and use for any purpose. These are beautiful, diverse, and ready to show up in your next ad campaign. Oh, and none of them area real. They’ve been generated by artificial intelligence. Most look indistinguishable from real beings, but they are all just very cleverly arranged pixels, sorted by a machine.

We’ve seen such technology before. For instance, openly-distributed code from graphics chip manufacturer Nvidia, called StyleGAN, let anyone on the web generate a completely fictional human face. The code eventually led to the creation of a website called This Person Does Not Exist, where you could create a convincing new face with the tap of your cursor.

Generated Photos appears to be largely the same idea, built upon what may be completely identical technology. But Generated Photos is not a tech experiment or demo; it’s a library of 100,000 faces that have already been generated, free to use commercially, so long as you link the site. It’s stock photography created by AI.

While the contact on the site did not respond to our request for clarification, the project’s website claims to be building a richer API that will allow you to sort the collection by criteria like age, ethnicity, skin-tone, gender, and mood.

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When the face-replacement technology Deepfakes hit the web in 2018, it made complicated, face-faking neural network computer science relatively accessible to laypeople (at least those who had a few hours to collect lots of photos of someone to train the system). Then, in early 2019, This Person Does Not Exist added an easy-to-use UX on top of similar novel face-generating tech; you didn’t need to know anything about code to invent new digital life from absolutely nothing but a tap on this site. And now, with Generated Photos, we’re seeing a fake photo library presented as a free service, not even a tap required!

What’s astounding is that, just back in 2016 three years ago! AI was generating people who looked like crazy sock puppet monsters. And now, not only has the technology been largely perfected, it’s been presented in a user-friendly fashion for anyone to utilize. From here on out, you simply cannot assume that any face you see in an ad or app is real. And by the same token, you might be a sucker for paying a human to do an AI model’s job.

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