Seeing Through Poor Uses of AI

Reading time
2 min read
The Original X-ray Spex - Amazing X-ray Vision glasses poster

Worries over deepfake technology have concentrated on the potential impact of computer-generated media on politics. But image-generation technology also can have a malign impact on private citizens. Consider DeepNude, an app that generates naked images from photos of clothed women.

What’s new: Motherboard reported on DeepNude, which had been quietly gaining traction since it was released in March. The exposé set off a firestorm of criticism. Within 24 hours, the developer withdrew the app. It had been downloaded more than 500,000 times.

How it works: The anonymous developer explained that the app was inspired by old comic book ads for X-Ray Spex, a toy that purported to let the wearer see through clothing.

  • DeepNude is based on the open-source pix2pix generative adversarial network, Motherboard reports.
  • The free version puts a watermark over generated images.
  • The $50 version stamps a “Fake” label in the upper left corner, where it can be easily cropped out.

The reaction: The developer announced the decision to delete the app with a message on Twitter that concluded, “The world is not yet ready for DeepNude.” In the ensuing thread, people expressed outrage and disgust that the app was developed at all:

  • "I think what you meant to say is 'We programmed a deeply offensive, creepy as f*** app that is basically an invitation to be abusive & violate people's privacy and we're sorry,'" said one commenter.
  • "don't blame others for your sociopathic, disrespectful morals. You knew exactly what your software will be used for and you don't care about the potential victims and what it does to their life. On par with revenge porn," said another.

Our take: Some users regard the app as harmless fun, like an Instagram filter that adorns human faces with a cartoonish dog nose. Such an attitude willfully ignores that representing any person without clothing and without permission is an attack on their privacy and autonomy. A fake nude can create false impressions and reinforce negative stereotypes, leading to embarrassment at best, sexual violence at worst. AI is a tool: Use it constructively, and you have a chance to make the world a better place. Wield it as a weapon, and you’ll leave a trail of pain and destruction.


Subscribe to The Batch

Stay updated with weekly AI News and Insights delivered to your inbox