AI can do many things. It can practice law, paint valuable paintings, and write songs in the style of The Beatles. Now it turns out it can also make human beings appear where they didn't exist before, at least in images. AI-created images of human faces look shockingly human. Not only do they see real, I at least, have an emotional reaction to them--some of them seem like people I'd like to meet. 

This, of course, raises the disturbing possibility that your faraway friend who posted a picture on social media of himself and his new girlfriend could actually be faking you out with an AI-generated image. There's almost no way to tell.

But, AI experts tell us, there are a few tell-tale spots where AI generated facial images tend to get things wrong--at least for now. And some AI experts at MIT have put together a fun experiment, in the form of a game where you get a quick look at an image of a face and have to guess whether it's real or fake.

Here are just some of the elements that may help you win the game--and tell whether your friend's new flame is real or not:

1. Strange hair.

Granted, some people just do have strange hair. But AI hair tends to look like it was added in Photoshop. Also, there are often strange-looking strands across the forehead that can look a little like cracks rather than hair. Sometimes there are clumps of hair that don't seem to be connected to other hair or the person's head. Long, straight hair can have some spots that look odd. 

2. Asymmetrical ears or earrings. 

Some people do wear one earring on one side and nothing or a different earring on the other. But if you see that in a picture, it could be a clue that you're looking at an artificially generated face. Look at the ears themselves. If they don't look alike, (one is longer than the other, or one has an attached earlobe and the other doesn't, for instance) you are most likely looking at an AI-generated image.

3. Asymmetrical eyes.

Some people do have two different colored eyes, but it's fairly rare. So if you're seeing that in an image, it's a clue that it may be artificially generated. Same goes if the irises appear to be different sizes.

4. Weird teeth.

Teeth are apparently challenging for AI to generate, so if someone has strange looking teeth or looks snaggle-toothed, chances are it's an AI-generated image. Unless, of course, it's a picture of  Freddie Mercury.

Unfortunately, the inverse isn't true. AI often gets teeth perfectly right, so even if an image has straight, natural-looking teeth, it could still be an AI fake.

5. An odd background.

Algorithms that generate facial images put a lot of work into making the faces realistic. At least for now, that takes their attention away from creating real-looking backgrounds. So if the background behind the person you're looking at doesn't look like a real place, that's a big clue that you're looking at an AI image. Text in particular tends to get garbled in backgrounds so if you see text that looks mangled, chances are the image is fake. 

Try it for yourself.

These quick tips are drawn from a much more detailed analysis of real vs. fake provided by artist and AI expert Kyle McDonald. Check it out if you want a really good understanding of what looks different in images of AI-created humans as opposed to real ones. McDonald notes that the technology is improving rapidly--in fact he first published his guide to identifying AI-generated humans in December 2017, and had to update it in December 2018 because the images had improved so much.

So, while you still can, take a shot at the experimental game that challenges you to tell which is which. If you're anything like me, you'll already have a tough time knowing one from the other.

Published on: Dec 30, 2018
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