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Op-Ed

Wish fulfillment paradox

March 26, 2023

AI-powered image generators gave us this week the political thirst traps that the universe has otherwise not seen fit to make available.

Barbara Leonard

By Barbara Leonard

San Diego-based editor at Courthouse News since 2010. Has an AP Stylebook subscription and knows how to search it.

Proving himself an unreliable clairvoyant, Donald Trump made it through Tuesday without getting criminally indicted. It may be hours until he unlocks this particular achievement. Or maybe it won’t happen at all.

But much like a Snickers bar, the founder of the investigative journalism collective Bellingcat asked the world: why wait? Using Midjourney, a new image-generating tool that works via artificial intelligence, Eliot Higgins tweeted a series of images that trace the former president’s imagined descent into institutionalized despair. AI Trump eventually emerges triumphant, under the incandescent glow of the Golden Arches, but the final frame shows him sobbing over paper wrappers.

The exercise landed Higgins on Midjourney’s naughty list, and he has since noted reports that the application is cracking down on users who try to create images of political figures. I went to the competing service DALL-E for a test run. Prompt 1 — I think you can guess — went nowhere without ending in a lockout. DALL-E gives users 15 free credits a month, and one credit buys one prompt.

I spent about a third of mine to come up with this 3D rendering of a big man in a suit with orange hair walking toward a fast-food restaurant.

DALL-E won't give images of political figures, but you can get close with the right adjectives. (Image via Courthouse News)

Looking through the storyline of the far superior images that Higgins created on Midjourney, I was reminded of playing “The Sims” as a kid. Designing characters after myself or people in my life, and then removing the bathrooms in the house, and watching them cry and do the “I need to go potty” dance.

But we don’t need to rehash the adolescent torture of a celebrity Sim to plumb the void of virtual reality.

If and when Trump is arrested, will any image live up to the one of him sporting a stiff orange tie to go with his prison jumpsuit?

Trump meanwhile went on to share a more flattering AI image that shows him in humble prayer.

Move over, “Lars and the Real Girl.” There is a new masturbatory superpower in town.

So far I have been pretty good at distinguishing between AI images and genuine photos. I admit that I had to second-guess myself when memes began circulating over the weekend of Pope Francis in a knee-length white puffer coat. (Midjourney ultimately locked the Reddit post where the AI image first appeared.)

Elsewhere in Europe last week a German minister of parliament, Daniel Freund, asked ChatGPT app to rap about corruption in Hungary. The ensuing takedown of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban led to what some reports termed “a rap battle.”

And while, technically, yes, a spokesman for the Hungarian government did ask ChatGPT to rap about Freund, Zoltan Kovacs lacked the killer instinct to bury the glowing song that the chatbot produced. Without even mocking how many times ChatGPT rhymed “Freund” with “friend,” the spokesman tweeted sulkily that ChatGPT "is nothing more than a bullshit generator.”

Maybe he should try Midjourney.

Categories:Op-Ed

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