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Pope puffer jacket: Do you have to be anxious that an AI image went viral?



These pictures had been generated by the AI software Midjourney


A picture of Pope Francis, the chief of the Catholic church, sporting a big, white puffer jacket has gone viral on social media prior to now few days. The 86-year-old pontiff appears trendy, with many individuals commenting on his modern garments. There is only one downside: the picture isn’t actual.

The photographs above had been generated by the bogus intelligence Midjourney, which produces pictures primarily based on textual content prompts, and had been posted on Reddit on 24 March by an artist who goes by the identify of u/trippy_art_special. The consumer’s account has since been suspended, however one picture (the left-hand one) has since unfold throughout Twitter, the place it has fooled many.

Ought to we be anxious? Internet tradition skilled Ryan Broderick has referred to as the Pope picture “the first real mass-level AI misinformation case”. However the difficulty has truly been brewing for a couple of weeks, following an replace to Midjourney that considerably improved the usual of output. Earlier in March, Midjourney-created pictures of former US president Donald Trump being arrested equally went viral. These pictures had been generated from prompts supplied by Eliot Higgins, the founding father of Bellingcat, an investigative journalism group.

“I think this is an example of a wider problem of technologies being pushed into our societies without any oversight, regulation or standards,” says Elinor Carmi at Metropolis, College of London.

Fears of AI fakery aren’t new. For a number of years, we’ve confronted the specter of deepfaked pictures of individuals’s faces, produced by earlier generations of AI educated on smaller volumes of data, however they’ve often had telltale indicators of fakery, akin to non-blinking eyes or blurred ears. Midjourney nonetheless struggles with palms, usually including extra fingers, however when confronted by a picture the place palms aren’t the main target, such because the AI Pope, folks might be fooled.

There’s additionally a problem of scale, says Agnes Venema on the College of Malta. The r/midjourney subreddit the place the Pope pictures had been posted has examples of different, equally convincing AI-generated pictures produced by its 143,000 members. They embody a sequence of pictures documenting a fictional earthquake that hit the US and Canada in 2001 that has impressed its personal lore. The highest-voted touch upon the submit reads: “People in 2025 are going to have a real difficult time with misinformation. People in 2100 won’t know which parts of history were real…”

“I think the fact that so many people can now access it – in a way, it is more democratic – means that, in a way, the floodgates have opened,” says Venema. “The more realistic it gets and the more people gain access, the more careful we should be and the more risk there is of someone acting on this type of deception.”

Finally, the fast rise of AI means some disruption is inevitable. Carmi says we’re being anticipated to hop on board the AI revolution with out absolutely greedy its influence – which means we’d like higher media literacy of how simple it’s to create and unfold pretend pictures. “Most of our society has been left behind, not understanding how these technologies work, for what purposes and what are the consequences of that,” she says.


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