State of the Art: Portraits Made Entirely with AI. The End of Reality As We Know It?

By David Schonauer   Monday January 7, 2019

Are we losing our grip on reality?

The latest development in photographic technology has even alt-right media site Breitbart worried. Breitbart, a leading purveyor of alternative political facts, recently reported on new work by researchers from Nvidia, who have used artificial intelligence to create very realistic photographic portraits of people who do not exist. “End of Photography as Evidence,” noted Breitbart in its headline.

Developments in artificial intelligence are indeed moving at a startling pace, agreed The Verge, adding that “we’re getting scarily good” at creating fake people.

Nvidia researchers announced the results of their work in a paper late last year, describing how they could easily create realistic faces through a generative adversarial network (GAN), noted PetaPixel.

The researchers are now able to copy the “styles” of source faces onto destination faces, creating blends that have copied features but which look like entirely new people.

Such technology has been around for only four years, noted The Verge. Back in 2014, the best it could do was to render crude black-and-white faces, like those below:

The new paper features hyper-realistic color faces (below). “If you didn’t know they were fake, could you tell the difference?” asked The Verge.

To create the latest faces, Nvidia researchers trained the AI “for a whole week” using 8 powerful GPUs, noted PetaPixel. Below is a 6-minute video showing their latest progress:

“What’s particularly interesting is that these fake faces can also be easily customized,” noted The Verge. “Nvidia’s engineers incorporated a method known as style transfer into their work, in which the characteristics of one image are blended with another. You might recognize the term from various image filters that are popular on apps like Prisma and Facebook in recent years, which can make your selfies look like an impressionist painting or a cubist work of art.”

In the grid below, you can see their progress, added The Verge: A source image of a real person (the top row) has the facial characteristics of another person (right-hand column) imposed onto it. Traits like skin and hair color are blended together, creating what looks like to be an entirely new person in the process.

Similar technology has previously been used to create “deepfake” pornography, with celebrity heads and faces mapped realistically onto the bodies of porn stars, noted Breitbart, which cited an article published in March 2018 by The New York Times warning that deepfake faces could also be used to “smear politicians, create counterfeit revenge porn or frame people for crimes.”

Are you listening Russia?


  1. Roger Maggio commented on: January 8, 2019 at 1:11 p.m.
    "Deepfakes" article, in the current edition of Foreign Affairs Quarterly is reported on in-depth. A must read!

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