How an A.I. ‘Cat-and-Mouse Game’ Generates Believable Fake Photos

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At a lab in Finland, a small team of Nvidia researchers recently built a system that can analyze thousands of (real) celebrity snapshots, recognize common patterns, and create new images that look much the same — but are still a little different. The system can also generate realistic images of horses, buses, bicycles, plants and many other common objects.

The project is part of a vast and varied effort to build technology that can automatically generate convincing images — or alter existing images in equally convincing ways. The hope is that this technology can significantly accelerate and improve the creation of computer interfaces, games, movies and other media, eventually allowing software to create realistic imagery in moments rather than the hours — if not days — it can now take human developers.

In recent years, thanks to a breed of algorithm that can learn tasks by analyzing vast amounts of data, companies like Google and Facebook have built systems that can recognize faces and common objects with an accuracy that rivals the human eye. Now, these and other companies, alongside many of the world’s top academic A.I. labs, are using similar methods to both recognize and create.

Nvidia’s images can’t match the resolution of images produced by a top-of-the-line camera, but when viewed on even the largest smartphones, they are sharp, detailed, and, in many cases, remarkably convincing.

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Meet the Lonely Japanese Men in Love With Virtual Girlfriends

A Love Plus player holds a picture of himself and his virtual girlfriend Manaka, taken in Atami during a weekend trip programmed in the game. Many of the users have a very sane idea of the game they are playing and the imaginary quality of the girls they are dating, others can no longer tell fact from fiction.

Photo: Loulou d’Aki

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Some Japanese men are wooing girlfriends who don’t exist. While they can only interact with their partner through a pre-written script, these virtual beauties — Rinko, Manaka or Nene — offer a kind of instant emotional connection at the tap of a stylus. The girls can kiss, “hold” a player’s hand, exchange flirtatious text messages and even snap out in anger if the player leaves a conversation. It’s one of Japan’s biggest gaming phenomenons called Love Plus – available on the Nintendo portable consoles and the iPhone.

“There is no friction in these relationships, obviously,” says Loulou d’Aki, a Swedish photographer who documented a number of Japanese players earlier this year. “The girls behave very sweetly with the guys in what they say, how they respond to them, and with big eyes and heart-shaped faces—who wouldn’t want that?”

D’Aki teamed up with Swiss science writer Roland Fischer and together, they sought to go beyond the existing online conversation. “When you Google ‘Japan’ and ‘love’, you find all these articles about lonely people who never get married,” she says. “I didn’t want to reduce it to that. I wanted to show the human aspect, the individual stories behind those who use these applications.”

Her images reveal the secret lives of thirty-somethings who have accepted living alone instead of looking for love. They share a common yearning for connection and found it on a touch screen. Many see it as just a game and can easily distinguish between the computerized and reality, while others are perpetually stuck in a love loop, desperately waiting for the next update of the game.