AI-rendered photos and other images are improving in leaps and bounds over what it was possible to automatically generate just a couple of years ago, and they’re gaining traction in odd places.
As we’ve demonstrated in previous coverage of the topic, many of the AI rendering platforms that anyone can freely use online don’t always exactly deliver what we’d call fully cohesive results. However, some of them sometimes do, and the visuals are cleverly being used for corporate mendacity.
As a recent investigation by journalist Evan Ratliff at Business Insider revealed, some companies are generating artificial, photorealistic images of people’s faces for staff photos of nonexistent employees.
Why would companies do such a silly thing you naively ask? A few simple reasons come to mind.
The first and most obvious of these is that a company can certainly make itself look bigger and more professional if it can showcase several or more staff members instead of just a couple.
Another useful reason is for the sake of diversity PR. By showing off a staff roster that’s gender and ethnicity-diverse, a company can also boost its image in certain ways.
These and other reasons become all the more enticing when having the staff images themselves doesn’t require spending money or time on actual employees or, failing that, hiring human models for a photo shoot.
It’s also useful that people who don’t exist can’t sue a company for using their face without permission after scraping it from some social media profile.
Ratliff himself discovered that all of this was a thing after first noticing some anomalies in the staff photos published on the website of one particular company, an Austrian test-prepping service called takeIELTS.
According to the reporter, there were several genuinely weird anomalies in several of the portrait shots on the site. One person’s face had only one earring on one ear, while another had one side of their face shaved more closely than the other.
While the earring isn’t entirely implausible in a normal human portrait, neither of these details is quite typical for a business website profile picture.
Ratliff then confirmed his suspicions by contacting the company and straight up asking them if they’d used AI-rendered facial “photos” for their site and a person who ran the business, called Lukas, confirmed that they had. He claimed that “It conveys the right message that it’s a big company working with professionals,”
According to the Business Insider reporter, takeIELTS had removed all of the artificial faces and changed the company name itself when he went to check back on their website months later.
AI image-rendering platforms operate in a number of different ways and not all of them are ideal for these types of face-generating scenarios. Some however specialize in using neural network programs that they’ve fed with millions of real photos of real people to let the AI under the hood learn how to construct a photo-like image of a human face from scratch.
However, as Ratliff notes, these programs “aren’t meant to impersonate anyone, or steal an identity. They’re meant to impersonate everyone, to mimic the fundamentals of human appearance with increasing fidelity,”
In other words, the general patterns that emerge from analyzing millions of faces can then be distilled down to specific (if generic) human faces that usually look very real.
The reporter has also noted that he’s caught other companies engaging in the same practice and named one in particular, a service called Informa Systems, which sells training materials to police departments such as the Austin PD in Texas.
Amusingly, some of these faces are also reused by multiple companies, adding another hole to the charade. For example, Ratliff found that a so-called photo of “Roger Tendul”, the supposed chief marketing officer of Informa, has been found on multiple other sites including promotional material for a dating website.
It’s also worth noting, as of our own recent check, that Informa Systems has also taken down its staff photo section.
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