AI-generated photos of people: time to worry?

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After AI algorithms learn how to create fake people portraits from scratch, a major stock photography platform will soon add AI-generated stock photos and they will be free to download. Earlier this week, VAIsual and Smarterpix announced a partnership on an AI-generated stock photo collection that the company says is “the world’s first legally licensed, synthetically generated stock photo content.”

The image collection contains green screen portraits of people who don’t actually exist, displaying a variety of different emotions (except happiness). The images, all headshots, are meant to be mixed with other backgrounds. Developed using algorithms by VAIsual, the images are set to launch on Smarterpix, a free photography website owned by PantherMedia.

[Read: 4 Strategies to Promote Your Photography Business in 2022]

The first set of AI-generated stock photos are made up entirely of portraits, but the company is already moving forward. “Our portrait library contains an ever-growing volume of diverse faces, ages, ethnicities and genders,” VAIsual CEO Michael Osterrieder wrote in a statement. “We are actively working on our next phase of development and will soon begin generating full-body images of humans.”

VAIsual says the algorithms used the company’s own unique dataset. One of the reasons the system was not trained using an existing database is that VAIsual wanted model versions of each person in the dataset. Although the images are not of real people, they are based on a collection of images of real people who have all signed biometric authorization. VAIsual says the collection is “legally clean” and users won’t have to worry about model versions.

Images of fake people could come in handy in industries where a model might find it awkward to have their photo featured. Remember this episode of Friends when Joey’s face was used on posters for venereal disease? Produced without a background, the images could also serve as transforming pieces for Photoshop artists.

However, the use of computer-generated images could potentially create turbulence in the industry. Stock photography is an option that many photographers use to generate a secondary source of income, or even a main source of income. Could computer-generated images impact the livelihoods of some photographers?

Some of the AI-generated stock photos are of non-existent people looking weird or with misaligned eyes…
AI-generated stock portrait
…or show strange emotions.

Another question to consider: will AI-generated stock photos create more problems? In the first published set of images in the collection, some of the ‘people’ have blurred edges, particularly around the hair, similar to what sometimes occurs when using a generated background blur by AI with a smartphone camera. Others have features that are obviously off, like misaligned eyes and strange emotions. Photographers will no doubt be able to easily spot a number of quirks in certain images.

An AI portrait of a man.
Can you spot the oddity?

VAIsual is not the first to generate humans from scratch, or even to offer AI-generated photos for free. Generated Photos launched a free library of 100,000 AI people in 2019. A Generative Adversarial Network or GAN is a type of AI that is used to create models of something, in this case, people. GAN-generated people have been in the news for a few years, raising questions about what it means for the industry as well as concerns about being misused as profile pictures to spread propaganda.

VAIsual and Smarterpix did not say when the first set of AI-generated photos would be available.

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