Adventures in AI

Adventures in AI

What you get when you ask Adobe or Photoshop for pictures

It started innocently.

Our genius art director, Jerry Szubin, had a photo of two women, a mother and daughter, standing together in a crowded outdoor area at dusk.

We wanted a headshot, of the mother only. It’s the kind of cropping that Jerry can do with his eyes closed — don’t worry, he never does! But he could — and he had an idea.

He was using Photoshop, probably the best-known, most totally go-to photography editing program there is. He knew that Photoshop offers an AI option. Why not try it? he thought.

So he did.

First, he asked the Photoshop’s AI to remove the woman on the left. It went overboard — it removed her, the woman on the right, the crowd, the setting sun, the ground. It went whole hog. It removed everything, leaving him with crickets. Or, to be more accurate, a closeup of grass that could be home to a whole cricket colony.

When he stopped laughing, Jerry repeated his request to AI, which responded with two fake-looking pastoral views. We could not figure out what AI’s logic had been, so we decided to keep looking.

When he asked it again, using highly specific words, the program did remove only the woman on the left, deciding to replace her not with scenery but with three new images. (You can see them below.) Each kept the rest of the photo intact — the same woman was still there on the right, standing exactly where she had been.

But the other woman, the one Jerry asked to be removed, instead was transmogrified. She was replaced with three images that all seemed at first sight to be of an Asian woman — the woman in the original photo was not Asian.

The first replacement image looked normal, if not likely to be the daughter of the mother still in the photo. But when you looked more closely, you would see that her teeth were odd. She seemed to have two sets of them. The second woman had something wrong with her glasses. The third woman had something wrong with her entire face.

So then, after Jerry cropped the first photo as he always does, we decided to explore a bit further.

We went to the website where he gets stock images — it’s Adobe, the company that owns Photoshop — and used its internal AI to investigate.

We wanted to see what Adobe’s AI thought about Jews.

We stayed away from anything that could be toxic or hateful. There’s enough hate floating around. We don’t need to add to it. We stayed with neutral or actively happy key words.

First, we tried Shabbat dinner. We got four images — here’s one of them.

AI got some of it sort of right. It knew candles — often three — and bread. The bread looked a bit like challah — it was the right color — and AI knew that it shouldn’t be flat-topped. Instead, each of the purported challot had different kinds of lumps.

In some of the images, AI knew that there should be a beverage in a wine glass. Once it might have been white wine; another time it was milk. Each table was decorated inexplicably — with red berries, with a little silver case, with wheat, with unidentifiable food-like objects.

Next, we tried a seder plate. AI apparently thinks that seder plates are silver and hold candy. The one here includes a Havdalah candle and cinammon sticks; another has dying flowers, and a third, in a nod to the original request, has matzah.

Asking for Torah reading delivered oddly dressed men — the more closely you look at each one, the more problems you see with his clothing — reading from oddly shaped books that often, as above, had objects growing from them.

From there, the images grew tiresomely silly. A request for dreidels produced images of … things … in what seemed to be cartoon Himalayas. Yom Ha’Atzmaut evoked more cartoon mountains. Yom Kippur brought us pictures of food that might put us off our feed. Sukkot was a cartoon fantasy unrelated to Sukkot. Jewish brides and grooms were cartoons of lovely brides and grooms who did not dress like Jewish brides and grooms, although to be fair three of the four gowns were modest, and the fourth not wildly immodest.

The request for a  lulav and etrog produced images that seem etrog-ish, along with many limes — one of the etrogim appeared to have been beheaded, but whatever — but we’re not sure what the corn on the plate was for.

On the whole, it was a pleasant half-hour diversion for a Friday pre-Memorial Day afternoon. We know that deep fakes are a serious social problem, and that AI texts are likely to upend both people’s trust in the truth and their incomes.

But photo AI on Photoshop? Not so much.

Really, not at all.


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