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A viral image of Pope Francis dressed in a stylish white puffer coat that fooled social media users was actually generated by AI

Pope FrancisFake images generated by an artificial intelligence program called Midjourney has fooled social media users.

Franco Origlia / Getty Images

  • An image of Pope Francis wearing a stylish white puffer jacket was actually generated by AI. 
  • The image went viral on social media with many people not recognizing that it was actually fake. 
  • An AI expert shared with Insider some telltale signs that the image is not real. 

An AI-generated image of Pope Francis wearing a stylish white puffer jacket shared on social media over the weekend has tricked thousands of users into thinking it is real.

The fake image, which shows the Pope wearing a bejeweled crucifix and holding what appears to be a coffee cup in one hand, was first posted to Reddit on Friday, titled “The Pope Drip,” in a subreddit called r/midjourney. It was generated by an artificial intelligence program called Midjourney. 

It was then circulated on platforms like Twitter with posts receiving hundreds of thousands of likes and many believing it’s real, including a number of celebrities and high-profile social media personalities.

Model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen, for example, tweeted: “I thought the pope’s puffer jacket was real and didn’t give it a second thought. no way am I surviving the future of technology.” 

Midjourney was founded by David Holz — who also cofounded software firm Leap Motion —  in July 2022 and uses artificial intelligence to generate images using textual descriptions provided by users, similar to OpenAI’s DALL-E

It has taken social media by storm as users generate fake images of former president Donald Trump, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, and President Vladimir Putin.

Eliot Higgins, the founder of investigative journalism group Bellingcat, posted a thread on Twitter of 50 realistic-looking images of Trump getting arrested, that were generated by Midjourney. 

Higgins later told Buzzfeed that he was banned from using the platform because of the images. The word “arrested” is also now banned from Midjourney, per Buzzfeed. 

Midjourney did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about the images, made outside normal business hours.

Telltale signs of an AI image

Henry Ajder, an AI expert and presenter who sits on the European Advisory Council for Meta’s Reality Labs, told Insider that while the image of the Pope looks realistic at first, there are telltale signs that it is fake.

He said that the hand holding the coffee cup appears to be a “deformed mess” and looks like it’s been “mushed together.” The pope’s glasses are also “not rendered properly” as there’s an inconsistency with the shadowing on the face, Ajder explained. 

“One of the things that’s becoming notable with Midjourney’s Version Five implementation is that a lot of these images have a very distinctive plasticky hyper-realistic [look], and it looks like a filter,” he added noting that these factors may change as the platform develops. 

Ajder said Midjourney’s progress since it was founded has been “startling,” as the company has already rolled out its fifth version of the program, and warned that it can create very “convincing” fake news reports and images of politicians. 

He pointed out that companies are in a “competitive arms race environment,” in an attempt to be seen as “first movers” and “capture market share” which may result in concerns around safety or ethics being put to the side. 

Ajder said he’s worked with Partnership in AI — a non-profit organization promoting responsible AI use — to set out guidelines for people using AI tools as well as creators of the tool. 

This includes building a “direct or indirect disclosure mechanism,” so users are alerted when they’re engaging with an AI-generated piece of content. This could include a watermark or a pre-rolled disclaimer for videos. 

Read the original article on Business Insider
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