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Reddit is fighting over whether this photo is AI-generated, and no one really knows the answer

Published Mar 7th, 2024 5:51PM EST

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Remember that viral BuzzFeed post about a dress from back in the 2010s, the one that asked people to simply vote on what color they thought the dress was, and it ended up breaking the internet? Get ready for a lot more of that, thanks to the era of generative AI — specifically, because of the rapidly advancing ability for computers to generate hyper-realistic photos (and videos, for that matter) from simple text prompts.

One of those dress-style debates is actually unfolding right now on Reddit, where a user a few days ago uploaded two images — both of them depicting a young woman laying outside in a field on a sunny day. You can probably guess the parameters of this debate: One image is real, and one is AI-generated. Which is which?

For reference, here are both of them side-by-side:

The images have sparked a raucous debate on Reddit, with commenters getting way down into the weeds — arguing, for example, about everything from the notion that the flowers supposedly look more real in the first image (as if AI isn’t powerful enough to create a realistic-looking flower) to the shadows not necessarily matching up correctly in the second image, along with some flowers and other detail that kind of looks like it’s just haphazardly floating about the second girl.

Writes one Redditor about the second image: “I think the flowers are too symmetrical there’s be more broken and weird shaped and pointed away from the camera. Especially close to where she laid down, they would bend away more. There’s some weird green blurry stuff in the foreground, it doesn’t really convince me.”

I assume the OP just wanted to watch the world burn, because he’s thus far decided to leave everyone hanging and remain silent as the fight unfolds over which one is an AI-created image (or whether, as some people are starting to suspect, both of them are). The only comment he’s made since his original post, though, leads me to strongly suspect that he’s messing with us and that both, in fact, are AI-generated images.

Whatever the answer is, though, I’d go so far as to argue that it kind of matters less than what all this says about the increasing prevalence of AI.

You can’t know; that’s what’s so simultaneously breathtaking and ominous about generative AI. Seeing is no longer believing. And what’s even more ominous is that we don’t yet know the full implications of these advancements and how it all will shake out. Generative AI has dramatically lowered the bar to content creation, meaning that not only can someone create realistic-looking photos of a young woman that spark a fun debate on Reddit — but hackers can also create realistic content of their own, as can people spreading misinformation during an election.

We also haven’t yet seen the full extent of what this technology will do to jobs, in terms of replacing human creators. And maybe we get to a point where AI is advanced enough that it creates its own AI system that surpasses our ability to control it. Long story short, the future is here. And about the only thing we can be sure of, for the moment, is that the generative AI genie is out of the bottle, and there’s no putting it back in.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.