Former President Donald Trump wrote on Truth Social Saturday that he was due to be arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday, and urged his supporters to “protest.”
Trump’s prediction didn’t pan out, but a flood of AI-generated images fulfilled his prophecy, going viral as an ironic joke, and misinterpreted by many as sincere.
The most popular images are hilariously dramatic, showing Trump tackled by law enforcement, winded during a struggle; my personal favorite shows Trump running away from his captors.
Of course, the image is clearly fake, because Trump doesn’t seem the sprinting type (the former president famously believes the human body contains a finite amount of energy, like a battery, and thinks that working out erodes that energy).
Chronically online Twitter users and AI hobbyists likely recognized the images as fake at first glance, but others did not (anecdotally, many of my family members, young and old, initially believed the pictures were real and were confused why Trump’s “arrest” didn’t make the news).
The images were generated by Midjourney, which recently released an update that significantly boosts its capacity to create convincing fakes. There are a few obvious red flags when it comes to AI-generated images; the AI used to struggle to depict human hands (any artist can tell you that detailed hands are very difficult to draw).
Missing, distorted limbs, along with extra fingers and teeth used to imbue AI-generated images with an eerie, uncanny quality, as though a shapeshifting demon from a horror film was trying to mimic the human form.
No longer – Midjourney can now create convincing hands (well, close enough).
Looking carefully at the “Trump’s arrest” images, there are still misshapen hands and limbs, and the faces of the crowd in the background resemble melted candle wax. Photo-realistic AI images have an unnatural, glossy texture to them, like a selfie that’s been warped by too many flattering filters.
However, these are subtle clues, and internet users who are already vulnerable to misinformation are about to face a tsunami of “fake news” – we all are.
The uncanny errors inside AI-generated images can easily be concealed by a few minutes of photoshop, a touch of motion blur or pixelation. The potential dangers of deep fakes have been discussed for years, and the technology is constantly improving.
Generative AI, generally, doesn’t result in great, insightful art (although, the Infinite Nothing Twitch stream is pretty interesting), but it does offer an opportunity to quickly create memes and misinformation, and the line separating the two has always been blurry.
The AI arms race is underway, as generative AI is capable of generating convincing speech, images and text. Currently, voice-generators are been used to make bizarre clips of U.S. Presidents engaging in rap battles and Minecraft tournaments (President Joe Biden has proved a very popular subject for this emerging genre of memes, often depicted as a foul-mouthed, weed-addicted gamer).
Trump’s loyal supporters have already proved willing to believe just about anything their dear leader tells them to, but there are plenty of voters out there who are still struggling to catch up with the pipeline of misinformation spewing from their social media timeline; what happens when the flood of AI-generated photos and videos distort our shared perception of reality?
I suppose the internet has already done the job; superstition, satanic panic and misinformation are rife on social media. But that doesn’t mean things can’t any worse; they can, and likely will.
Social media users are already algorithmically funneled into echo-chambers that conform to their beliefs. Hallucinogenic belief systems like QAnon emerged from the current internet ecosystem; imagine what malicious actors can do with generative AI.
If faced with a tsunami of incriminating images that are difficult to authenticate, many might simply choose to believe information that suits their biases, and dismiss real evidence as fake. Again, this already happens, but AI is giving propagandists some sharp tools, widening the pool of potential victims.
Donald Trump certainly understands the power of a compelling image; reportedly, the former president wants to be handcuffed and given a “perp walk,” in the event of his arrest. Those AI images are soon to compete with a real photograph of Trump’s dramatic arrest, which might even be dismissed as fake.
We’ve on the cusp of a new age of misinformation; media literacy is about to become a vital life skill.
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