A.I.-Generated Images and the Play to Diversity

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From the NYTimes online site, accessed Jan. 3, 2018

 

The headline in the online version of a Jan. 2 NY Times story is an interesting twist from the way the same article is presented in the today’s print issue: the latter, which cites the byline of Cady Metz, “She Could Be a Star, if She Existed.” (The online version’s header is “How and A.I. ‘Cat-and-Mouse Game’ Generates Believable Fake Photos.”)

There’s certainly a lot going on here: for visual studies scholars and art historians, A.I. research that converts “images of horses into zebras and Monets into Van Goghs” is another visual turn, one that exceeds the predictions of Benjamin and Malraux. Then, there’s the interest in “truth” versus “falsity” as scientists develop generative adversarial networks that can “generate faux images and doctor the real thing” by putting words in the mouths of videoed speakers.

One scientist’s assessment of current research made me think about the ways in which bodily statements, representations, and recognitions are patterning strategies that animals rely on; we humans read race and other differentiating traits based on groupings to construct homogeneity and heterogeneity. Durk Kingma, whose work is funded by Tesla’s Elon Musk, is excited about the Finnish commuter chip maker Nvidia’s breakthrough technology. Kingma’s published remark: “We now have a model that can generate faces that are most diverse and in some ways more realistic than what we can program by hand.” Nvidia’s maximizing and extending diversity beyond what is experienced in everyday life is a viewed as a public good.

The marketing of diversity is not only significant because it demonstrates that paragon appearance–at least right now–is kinda Jennifer Aniston-y, kinda Selena Gomez-y.  It’s also that “diversity” can be produced on the surface. These efforts are designed to desegregate representational fields and to integrate different bodies into them. What is produced is the look of diversity, fairness, equity, and justness. As Machiavelli wrote, appearance is more important than reality.

Discussions of visuality are more necessary than ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Author: Jacqueline Francis

Writer, teacher, curator, and arts consultant in San Francisco, California. Follow me on Twitter @JackieFrancisSF

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