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White faces generated by AI are more convincing than photos, finds survey

Nicola KS Davis

The Guardian

Nov 13, 2023

It sounds like a scenario straight out of a Ridley Scott film: technology that not only sounds more “real” than actual humans, but looks more convincing, too. Yet it seems that moment has already arrived.

A new study has found people are more likely to think pictures of white faces generated by AI are human than photographs of real individuals.

“Remarkably, white AI faces can convincingly pass as more real than human faces – and people do not realise they are being fooled,” the researchers report.

The team, which includes researchers from Australia, the UK and the Netherlands, said their findings had important implications in the real world, including in identity theft, with the possibility that people could end up being duped by digital impostors.

However, the team said the results did not hold for images of people of colour, possibly because the algorithm used to generate AI faces was largely trained on images of white people.

Dr Zak Witkower, a co-author of the research from the University of Amsterdam, said that could have ramifications for areas ranging from online therapy to robots.

“It’s going to produce more realistic situations for white faces than other race faces,” he said.

The team caution such a situation could also mean perceptions of race end up being confounded with perceptions of being “human”, adding it could also perpetuate social biases, including in finding missing children, given this can depend on AI-generated faces.