Portrait Ars generator whitens coloured peoples' skins

Occurred: July 2019

AI-powered portrait generator AI Portrait Ars drew controversy soon after its launch when it was found to be whitening coloured peoples' skins.

Mashable journalist Morgan Sung discovered that the generator, which turned selfies into realistic Impressionist and Baroque portraits, 'whitened my skin to an unearthly pale tone, turned my flat nose into one with a prominent bridge and pointed end, and replaced my very hooded eyes with heavily lidded ones.'

According to Mauro Martino, co-developer of the app, 'the intention is to share the experience of being portrayed by an AI algorithm, to discover how AI sees you. There is no willingness to improve or deform the starting picture.'

Martino and collaborator Luca Stornaiuolo said AI Portrait Ars was not just for entertainment, but that they were making a broader point about perceptions of beauty, and the notion of AI fairness.

The model was apparently based on a collection of 15,000 portraits, predominantly from the 15th century western European Renaissance period, which would help explain the skin whitening, and the tendency to produce faces with straight, high noses and thin smiles.

Operator: Mauro Martino; Luca Stornaiuolo
Developer: Mauro Martino; Luca Stornaiuolo

Country: USA

Sector: Research/academia

Purpose: Generate portraits

Technology: Generative adversarial network (GAN); Neural network; Machine learning
Issue: Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity

Transparency: 

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Type: Issue
Published: March 2023