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Text-to-image AI: powerful, easy-to-use technology for making art – and fakes

Text-to-image generators like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion portend a future where anyone with a computer can fake a photograph of just about anything.

A synthetic image generated by mimicking real faces, left, and a synthetic face generated from the text prompt ‘a photo of a 50-year man with short black hair,’ right. Hany Farid using StyleGAN2 (left) and DALL-E (right), CC BY-ND

Type “Teddy bears working on new AI research on the moon in the 1980s” into any of the recently released text-to-image artificial intelligence image generators, and after just a few seconds the sophisticated software will produce an eerily pertinent image.

Seemingly bound by only your imagination, this latest trend in synthetic media has delighted many, inspired others and struck fear in some.

Google, research firm OpenAI and AI vendor Stability AI have each developed a text-to-image image generator powerful enough that some observers are questioning whether in the future people will be able to trust the photographic record.

an image of three tiny bears standing on the sandy soil in front of an electronic device
This image was generated from the text prompt ‘Teddy bears working on new AI research on the moon in the 1980s.’ Hany Farid using DALL-E, CC BY-ND

As a computer scientist who specializes in image forensics, I have been thinking a lot about this technology: what it is capable of, how each of the tools have been rolled out to the public, and what lessons can be learned as this technology continues its ballistic trajectory.

Adversarial approach

Although their digital precursor dates back to 1997, the first synthetic images splashed onto the scene just five years ago. In their original incarnation, so-called generative adversarial networks (GANs) were the most common technique for synthesizing images of people, cats, landscapes and anything else.

A GAN consists of two main parts: generator and discriminator. Each is a type of large neural network, which is a set of interconnected processors roughly analogous to neurons.

Tasked with synthesizing an image of a person, the generator starts with a random assortment of pixels and passes this image to the discriminator, which determines if it can distinguish the generated image from real faces. If it can, the discriminator provides feedback to the generator, which modifies some pixels and tries again. These two systems are pitted against each other in an adversarial loop. Eventually the discriminator is incapable of distinguishing the generated image from real images.

Text-to-image

Just as people were starting to grapple with the consequences of GAN-generated deepfakes – including videos that show someone doing or saying something they didn’t – a new player emerged on the scene: text-to-image deepfakes.

In this latest incarnation, a model is trained on a massive set of images, each captioned with a short text description. The model progressively corrupts each image until only visual noise remains, and then trains a neural network to reverse this corruption. Repeating this process hundreds of millions of times, the model learns how to convert pure noise into a coherent image from any caption.

a house cat with bulky opaque goggles on its face
This photolike image was generated using Stable Diffusion with the prompt ‘cat wearing VR goggles.’ Screen capture by The Conversation, CC BY-ND

While GANs are only capable of creating an image of a general category, text-to-image synthesis engines are more powerful. They are capable of creating nearly any image, including images that include an interplay between people and objects with specific and complex interactions, for instance “The president of the United States burning classified documents while sitting around a bonfire on the beach during sunset.”

OpenAI’s text-to-image image generator, DALL-E, took the internet by storm when it was unveiled on Jan. 5, 2021. A beta version of the tool was made available to 1 million users on July 20, 2022. Users around the world have found seemingly endless ways to prompt DALL-E, yielding delightful, bizarre and fantastical imagery.

A wide range of people, from computer scientists to legal scholars and regulators, however, have pondered the potential misuses of the technology. Deep fakes have already been used to create nonconsensual pornography, commit small- and large-scale fraud, and fuel disinformation campaigns. These even more powerful image generators could add jet fuel to these misuses.

Three image generators, three different approaches

Aware of the potential abuses, Google declined to release its text-to-image technology. OpenAI took a more open, and yet still cautious, approach when it initially released its technology to only a few thousand users (myself included). They also placed guardrails on allowable text prompts, including no nudity, hate, violence or identifiable persons. Over time, OpenAI has expanded access, lowered some guardrails and added more features, including the ability to semantically modify and edit real photographs.

Stability AI took yet a different approach, opting for a full release of their Stable Diffusion with no guardrails on what can be synthesized. In response to concerns of potential abuse, the company’s founder, Emad Mostaque, said “Ultimately, it’s peoples’ responsibility as to whether they are ethical, moral and legal in how they operate this technology.”

Nevertheless, the second version of Stable Diffusion removed the ability to render images of NSFW content and children because some users had created child abuse images. In responding to calls of censorship, Mostaque pointed out that because Stable Diffusion is open source, users are free to add these features back at their discretion.

The genie is out of the bottle

Regardless of what you think of Google’s or OpenAI’s approach, Synthesis AI made their decisions largely irrelevant. Shortly after Synthesis AI’s open-source announcement, OpenAI lowered their guardrails on generating images of recognizable people. When it comes to this type of shared technology, society is at the mercy of the lowest common denominator – in this case, Synthesis AI.

Text-to-image generators could make it easier for people to create deepfakes.

Synthesis AI boasts that its open approach wrestles powerful AI technology away from the few, placing it in the hands of the many. I suspect that few would be so quick to celebrate an infectious disease researcher publishing the formula for a deadly airborne virus created from kitchen ingredients, while arguing that this information should be widely available. Image synthesis does not, of course, pose the same direct threat, but the continued erosion of trust has serious consequences ranging from people’s confidence in election outcomes to how society responds to a global pandemic and climate change.

Moving forward, I believe that technologists will need to consider both the upsides and downsides of their technologies and build mitigation strategies before predictable harms occur. I and other researchers will have to continue to develop forensic techniques to distinguish real images from fakes. Regulators are going to have to start taking more seriously how these technologies are being weaponized against individuals, societies and democracies.

And everyone is going to have to learn how to become more discerning and critical about how they consume information online.

Hany Farid does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a…

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Federal Food Stamps Program Hits Record Costs In 2022

In early January, The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board warned that one peril of a large administrative state is the mischief agencies can get up to when no one is watching.

Specifically, they highlight the overreach of the Agriculture Department, which expanded food-stamp benefits by evading the process for determining benefits and end-running Congressional review.

Exhibit A in the over-reach is the fact that the cost of the federal food stamps program known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) increased to a record $119.5 billion in 2022, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture...

Food Stamp costs have literally exploded from $60.3 billion in 2019, the last year before the pandemic, to the record-setting $119.5 billion in 2022.

In 2019, the average monthly per person benefit was $129.83 in 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That increased by 78 percent to $230.88 in 2022.

Even more intriguing is the fact that the number of participants had increased from 35.7 million in 2019 to 41.2 million in 2022...

All of which is a little odd - the number of people on food stamps remains at record highs while the post-COVID-lockdown employment picture has improved dramatically...

Source: Bloomberg

If any of this surprises you, it really shouldn't given that 'you, the people' voted for the welfare state. However, as WSJ chided: "abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that."

In its first review of USDA, the GAO skewered Agriculture’s process for having violated the Congressional Review Act, noting that the “2021 [Thrifty Food Plan] meets the definition of a rule under the [Congressional Review Act] and no CRA exception applies. Therefore, the 2021 TFP is subject to the requirement that it be submitted to Congress.” GAO’s second report says “officials made this update without key project management and quality assurance practices in place.”

Abuse of process doesn’t get much clearer than that. The GAO review won’t unwind the increase, which requires action by the USDA. But the GAO report should resonate with taxpayers who don’t like to see the politicization of a process meant to provide nutrition to those in need, not act as a vehicle for partisan agency staffers to impose their agenda without Congressional approval.

All of this undermines transparency and accountability for a program that provided food stamps to some 41 million people in 2021. The Biden Administration is using the cover of the pandemic to expand the entitlement state beyond what Congress authorized.

The question now is, will House Republicans draw attention to this lawlessness and use their power of the purse to stop it to the extent possible with a Democratic Senate.

And don't forget, the US economy is "strong as hell."

Tyler Durden Sat, 01/28/2023 - 09:55

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A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line Adult Favorite Has Not Come Back

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

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The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

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What’s Still Missing on Royal Caribbean Cruises Post Covid

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn’t been brought back.

Published

on

The cruise line has almost fully returned to normal after the covid pandemic, but one very popular activity hasn't been brought back.

In the early days of Royal Caribbean Group's (RCL) - Get Free Report return from its 15-month covid pandemic shutdown, cruising looked a lot different. Ships sailed with limited capacities, masks were required in most indoor areas, and social distancing was a thing.

Keeping people six feet apart made certain aspects of taking a cruise impossible. Some were made easier by the lower passenger counts. For example, all Royal Caribbean Windjammer buffets required reservations to keep the crowds down, but in practice that system was generally not needed because capacities were never reached.

Dance parties and nightclub-style events had to be held on the pool decks or in larger spaces, and shows in the big theaters left open seats between parties traveling together. In most cases, accommodations were made and events more or less happened in a sort of normal fashion.

A few very popular events were not possible, however, in an environment where keeping six feet between passengers was a goal. Two of those events -- the first night balloon drop and the adult "Crazy Quest" game show -- simply did not work with social-distancing requirements.

One of those popular events has now made its comeback while the second appears to still be missing (aside from a few one-off appearances).

TheStreet

The Quest Is Still Mostly Missing

In late November, Royal Caribbean's adult scavenger hunt, "The Quest," (sometimes known as "Crazy Quest") began appearing on select sailings. And at the time it appeared like it was coming back across the fleet: A number of people posted about the return of the interactive adult game show in an unofficial Royal Caribbean Facebook group.

It first appeared during a Wonder of the Seas transatlantic sailing.

Since, then its appearances continue to be spotty and it has not returned on a fleetwide basis. This might not be due to any covid-related issues directly, but covid may play a role.

On some ships, Studio B, which hosts "The Quest," has been used for show rehearsals. That has been more of an issue with the trouble Royal Caribbean has had in getting new crew members onboard. And while that staffing issue has been improving, some shows may not have had full complements of performers, so using the space for rehearsal has been a continuing need.

In addition, while covid rules have gone away, covid has not, and ill cast members may force the need for more rehearsals.

Royal Caribbean has not publicly commented on when (or whether) "The Quest" will make a full comeback

Royal Caribbean Balloon Drops Are Back   

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean kicked off many of its cruises with a balloon drop on the Royal Promenade. That went away because it forced people to cluster as music was performed and, at midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling.

Now, the cruise line has brought back the balloon drop, albeit with a twist. The drop itself is appearing on activity schedules for upcoming Royal Caribbean cruises. Immediately after it, however, the cruise line has added something new: "The Big Recycle Balloon Pickup."

Most of the dropped balloons get popped during the drop. Previously, crewmembers picked up the used balloons. Now, the cruise line has made it a "fun" passenger activity.

"Get environmentally friendly as you help us gather our 100% biodegradable balloons in recycle baskets," the cruise line shared in its app. 

Read More

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