The AI program used to generate fake viral images of Pope Francis and Donald Trump just suspended free trials — but professional photographers say they're still concerned
AI image generator Midjourney is pausing free trials due to "extraordinary demand and trial abuse," its founder said.
Midjourney is still available for use under its paid-for subscription plans, according to its official site.
Pro photographers are speaking out about the dangers of the technology and lack of regulation.
As AI-generated images continue to spread online, one company is aiming to slow down the proliferation of fake photos and deepfakes.
Midjourney — the artificial intelligence image generator used to create the viral fake photos of Pope Francis and Donald Trump — announced via its Discord server on Wednesday that it disabled the use of free trials on the site "due to a combination of extraordinary demand and trial abuse," according to founder and CEO David Holz.
—Emmanuelle Saliba (@_esaliba) March 29, 2023
Prior to the free trial shutdown, fake images created using Midjourney were going viral on Twitter and other social media platforms. Some users said the photos were so realistic that they hadn't realized they were actually AI-generated.
One photo of Pope Francis wearing a pristine white puffer coat was shared to Facebook and Reddit before it eventually hit Twitter, where it has now been viewed over 20 million times. Since it was posted, the platform added a context note letting viewers know that the image is fake.
—Nikita S (@singareddynm) March 25, 2023
Last week, photos of former president Donald Trump surfaced online as talks of a potential indictment swirled. The images depicted Trump being held by several police officers, and quickly gained attention online. However, they were later proven to be AI-generated, also created using Midjourney.
—Dragon Fat Deposits (@LichQueenST) March 21, 2023
Midjourney was founded by Holz in July 2022, and has been likened to OpenAI's DALL-E because it utilizes AI to generate images based on user-provided text descriptions. The platform has been used to create fake images of Twitter CEO Elon Musk and President Vladimir Putin in the past.
As of Wednesday, Midjourney offers three tiers of subscription plans. According to the official site, its basic plan costs $10 per month while the standard and pro plans have a monthly fee of $30 and $60, respectively.
Insider reached out to Midjourney's press contact, but did not immediately hear back.
Professional photographers are becoming more vocal about their concerns as AI-generated images become increasingly harder to recognize as fake.
"These images, created by machine learning algorithms, can be incredibly realistic, blurring the line between reality and fiction," UK-based photographer Adam Khan told Insider. "Additionally, it can lead to the creation of work that is not representative of the creative's own artwork, as AI-generated images can easily replicate styles and techniques."
Los Angeles-based professional photographer Presley Ann told Insider she believes Midjourney's decision to disable free trials was the right choice "until there are protections put into place."
"I don't think laws have caught up with how harmful AI can be," Ann said. "As things progress, it can even become an issue for people's livelihood."
She continued: "A lot of celebrities do these endorsement deals, so what's to stop a big corporation from using a celebrities face in some sort of AI-generated way."
Ann referenced the emergence of deepfake pornography using celebrities' faces without their consent in 2021 as another instance of harmful AI use.
As a photographer, Ann told Insider she's both nervous and excited for the future of AI as it relates to photos, and she foresees a day when AI-generated images could replace photos as we know them.
Khan, however, is more wary of AI's potential to mislead the masses.
"The danger of this is that it can lead to a loss of trust in visual media, making it more difficult to discern what is real and what is not," Khan said.
He continued: "This poses a threat to the integrity of the creative industry and highlights the need for ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI in the arts."
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