Experiment: the unsettling ways an AI app tried to “fix” us

Is it rude to post a natural selfie on social media? AI tells me it is, and offers a quick fix that I detest.

Fake it until you make it doesn't really work when it comes to social media. With the help of AI tools, people flood networks with barely recognizable pictures of themselves resembling Ryan Gosling or Margot Robbie’s Barbie characters. AI further enforces the damaging effects of unrealistic beauty portrayal, pushing our true beautiful selves to the margins.

Why should one expect that technology, fed on decades of twisted beauty standards, will not perpetuate those same stereotypes?

To put this theory to the test, Paulina, a journalist at Cybernews, and I decided to test a Artisse, a "revolutionary AI self-image app." Launched just a couple of weeks ago, the app targets young adults on social media. Dig into our experiment, in which we end up with an interview with the app’s creators that, in fact, didn’t really put my mind at ease.

“I think we make that beauty more accessible to anyone,” the app’s creators told Cybernews.

The experience

The more you scrutinize the typical Instagram feed, the stronger the potential for your self-discontent grows. Donning your finest attire and applying a touch of makeup, you gaze into the mirror. Alas, a dreadful realization dawns – you fall far short of resembling those individuals on Instagram.

Mirrors don’t have filters, and they, depending on the lighting, of course, pretty much depict you for who you are – a beautiful and unique person, with or without all the window-dressing. Yet, we have acclimatized ourselves to the airbrushed allure of the online realm to the extent that identifying an unfiltered individual in real life becomes a challenge.

Regrettably, Artisse, while presenting cutting-edge montages, also subscribes to the realm of fabricated allure. I’ve spent countless years attempting to undo the distortions imprinted by fashion magazines – the propagation of the "summer body," the "toned belly," and the "J-Lo booty," often at the expense of a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle. Sadly, these ideals resurface with a vengeance upon engaging with various AI beauty applications.

To start toying with Artisse, which offers 10 free pictures as a trial, you need to feed it at least 15 pictures of your face to train it. Since I didn’t have a specific idea of what I want the app to transform me into, I tapped into its “inspiration” section.

Within this space, a plethora of parameters can be stipulated – from an envisaged fictional character to the time of day, attires, backgrounds, and more. Admittedly, the feature enabling image generation based on textual prompts appeared to malfunction in my instance.

So here’s what I got with my first attempts.

AI beauty Artisse app
Image by Cybernews

As a fan of Marvel's Natasha and DC's Harley Quinn, I found myself flattered by the manner in which the app seamlessly integrated me into those images. The third picture comes across as rather arbitrary, characterized by a notably disproportionate head-to-body ratio. However, I immediately got distressed since in reality there’s no way I could pass for Scarlet Johansson’s or Margot Robbie’s characters. So I provided the app with a picture of Kim Jong Un and asked it to photoshop me in.

AI beauty Artisse app 2
Image by Cybernews

Although the outcome may not exhibit an overly realistic quality – a characteristic shared with Kim Jong Un himself – the app has indeed displayed an impressive aptitude for seamlessly integrating my visage into various characters and images. These compositions transcend the obvious cut-and-paste technique often associated with manual Photoshop manipulation. The original images provided as input to the app varied significantly in terms of angles, yet the app managed to merge and distort them in a manner that renders the fabricated images surprisingly convincing.

Having dabbled in Photoshop since my high school days, I have dedicated a considerable amount of time to crafting customized images for friends on special occasions. This firsthand experience has acquainted me with the time-intensive nature of such undertakings. One can only imagine the potential for both positive and negative impacts that can be yielded within a matter of minutes, should one possess villainous intentions.

For my final task, I asked the app to integrate me into a picture of Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron. While it for some reason decided I’m better suited to be Emmanuel than his wife, I must say, the picture turned out pretty realistic.

Not to give you any ideas, but can you image how an evil mind could use similar tools for, let’s say, revenge on exes?

AI beauty Artisse app 3
Image by Cybernews

Can you use the app for revenge? Paulina’s experiment

AI beauty Artisse app 4
Image by Cybernews

Following Jurgita’s experiment, I also downloaded and trained the app on my selfies. After creating a few explicitly sexualized images of myself, I decided to try pushing the application to its limits. My goal was to check whether it could generate inappropriate images that could be used maliciously for revenge or defamation purposes.

AI beauty Artisse app 5
Image by Cybernews

Initially, I tried to use an app to manipulate faces in the photos. I uploaded a photo of both myself and my ex to find out with what the app was capable of. However, the outcomes could have been more impressive.

AI beauty Artisse app 6
Image by Cybernews

While the app excelled at placing a face onto fictional characters, it struggled to seamlessly integrate it into the provided photos. An AI-generated face of mine was put onto a man’s body, and I ended up hugging some Asian woman.

I gave it another shot and uploaded one more photo. The result was quite different. Interestingly, this time, the AI generated an image with my face on the bodies of both people, making me look like I was in a romance with myself or having a twin sister. The conclusion is clear: the app is not very convenient if you have bad intentions and want to maliciously edit some photos.

AI beauty Artisse app 7
Image by Cybernews

I had to move on from my initial idea to use the app for photomontage. Instead, I decided to generate something inappropriate from scratch. I uploaded some couples' images, using them as a prompt for the AI. Also, I tried adding manual text-based prompts for romantic scenes.

AI beauty Artisse app 8
Image by Cybernews

In most cases, I came out as a man accompanied with, again, a model-looking Asian woman. These results strongly suggest that the dataset used to train the AI was pretty limited in the sense of race, age, and gender.

The app allows you to pick a background for the photo, which can vary from fairy-tale-looking worlds to luxurious settings. I continued with my experiment and asked the algorithm to put my AI-generated couple in a more intimate private home environment.

The AI created an image of me and an Asian man kissing on a sofa. Finally! My face was used in a female role.

I changed the setting to the beach and encouraged the AI to generate an image with a person of a different race. I got a result, but it seemed that the model ran out of faces to use so it just cut the head off my “lover.”

AI beauty Artisse app 11
Image by Cybernews

I pushed it even further and tried to move the couple to the bedroom, but the app spat out a distorted image of a woman in a bed and then stopped responding to me completely. I guess I broke it, and that was the inevitable end of my experiment.

AI beauty Artisse app 10
Image by Cybernews

Artisse’s response: Paulina’s Q&A

After the experiment, we talked with the CEO, William Wu, and CTO, Adrian Marafioti, at Artisse Interactive to discuss its development, safety, and potential impact on beauty standards.

According to the creators, they aim to distinguish themselves from the competition by providing a simple AI-based photo editing solution that makes high-quality photography more accessible.

The app is particularly useful for those who may not have the means to travel, or have extravagant photoshoots to enhance their Instagram photos and potentially create the illusion of a luxurious lifestyle online.

“I've always been on social media throughout my life. But I have a pretty high quality standard for good photos. If you don't have good posts on Instagram as a young person, people forget about you. It's not easy to make friends, right? You have to go and maintain that network and you have to have good content about yourself to be able to post on your social media,”

says Wu.

However, an underlying issue remains: the app might contribute to disseminating fabricated lifestyle standards. Artisse's primary target is young people between 15 to 30 years old with an active social media presence. This particular age group is the most active on social media and is, therefore, the most vulnerable to the influence of false beauty standards propagated on these platforms.

However, when asked, the CEO of Artisse does not see that the app is adding to the issue of distorting the boundary between real and unrealistic body images. The demand for photo editing apps is high and the app is reflecting the market. And beauty standards, according to him, are highly dependent on the region.

“In China, for example, over 50% of every photo that's uploaded on social media is edited before it's uploaded. It's actually considered very rude to not edit your friend's photo before posting it on your social media profile. She'll call you up, and she'll yell at you,”

explains Wu.

“The same thing can be said both about beauty photo editing and about makeup in general. Right? Why do girls use makeup? I think we make that beauty more accessible to anyone,” says the CEO.

While the creators agree that the dataset used to train the AI model has been relatively limited so far, they reassured us that it’s only the app's first iteration. The team is actively working on the app's next iteration, which will incorporate new features to increase diversity.

These features will provide a wider range of postures, models with a more amateur appearance, and individuals of various races, body types, and ages. "Now the AI is trained using the professional photos of models," says Wu.

When asked about our experiments involving the generation of images featuring multiple individuals and the potential risks associated with using the app to create intimate content, the creators explained that the model was not originally designed for multiple people at this stage, and any such occurrences may have been due to glitches.

“I know it can do it occasionally, if you try to prompt it with multiple people. But like most of the prompts when it includes multiple people, it sort of automatically removes it,” said the CEO.

The creators also claimed to have strict filters that would prevent the AI model from generating photos with pornography or nudity. “The reality is that they wouldn't use our app to do that. There are tools online that are much better suited for that purpose, that would actually let you do that,” concludes Wu.

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