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None of the people you can see above actually exist. They were never born, didn’t grow old, never acquired an appalling haircut (we’re looking at you, non-existent dude on the left). They are nothing more than the imagination of an algorithm. And there’s an infinite army of them.
The ‘photos’ you see above are generated by a website called Thispersondoesnotexist.com. As soon as you click on the site (don’t even think about it until you’ve finished this story, buddy) you get an artificially generated human. Hit refresh and you get another. There’s nothing more to it than that. It’s utterly compelling and not a little bit terrifying.
The site isn’t cycling through a massive library of photos. Each face is unique and computer generated, the result of an algorithm that has learned the properties of what a human face should look like and can generate them on the fly.
The site appears to be a research project created by three employees of the graphics company Nvidia. There’s a paper explaining how the images are generated here, but unless you’ve got a degree in computer science, you might struggle to make much sense of it.
The algorithm is by no means flawless. Images are occasionally obscured by glitches and it seems to have a particular problem with ears, especially when the subject isn’t facing perfectly front on.
This fella seems to have had a nasty accident at the barber’s, for instance:
And not only has this cute little toddler lost her left ear, there appears to be a chunk out of her cheek/chin, too:
So, Thispersondoesnotexist isn’t perfect, but then a fresh, perfectly-formed face is only a click of the refresh button away.
What use is a system like this? Well, you could easily see it being used for computer games, where fictional characters are generated. Football Manager, for instance, creates fictional young footballers that currently come with ghastly computer-generated faces.
Young Ewen Granger here seems to be going through some kind of New Romantic phase, for instance…
You could also see it being used for advertising. Need a person of a certain demographic, but don’t want to pay for a model or stock library photo? Just generate a fake human being on demand.
Welcome to a future where we have no idea where the people we’re gawping at are actually people at all.
Now read this: What does the Av mode on my camera do?