The latest AI trend turns your selfies into high school-style yearbook photos. If you’re active on Instagram, chances are you would have seen a selection of different versions of your friends wearing Nineties-inspired outfits ranging from preppy to punk rock – but what you might not know is that those images have been paid for.
Now I’ll admit, in the past, I have paid to have AI-generated images of myself created in the name of research – not just because curiosity got the better of me. Yes I’m lucky to have a job where I can buy into that kind of trend for “work purposes”, but I quickly grew concerned that I was paying to sell my data to companies without fully knowing what they might do with it. After all, who has time to read all the terms and conditions?
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Sitting at number three in the app store chart, Epik has shot up in popularity over the last few days thanks to another viral TikTok / Instagram trend. For about 5 bucks you can generate 60 alternative versions of yourself, "shot" as if you're having your high school photo taken.
I have to admit, the results are very impressive. They do actually pass as real photos and if they appeared in a yearbook from the Nineties I'd assume they were real photos. But like all AI images, they seem to conform to stereotypical beauty standards.
This isn't the first time an AI image-generating app has gone viral; when Lensa first added an AI avatar feature, everyone was downloading it to see what they would look like as an anime character or Disney princess. I did it, too! But I was shocked when I discovered how sexualized many of the images were, as if AI has an obsession with boobs.
Luckily Epik doesn't seem to overly sexualize images, but it does airbrush your skin, make your facial features perfectly proportioned and take away all your individual quirks that make you, you.
I'm not gonna lie, it's taken a huge amount of self-control to not just throw caution to the wind and pay for the pictures. I want to see what I would look like as a glam rock high schooler or a pom-pom-wielding cheerleader, but alas I must settle for enjoying the actual images my friends have shared (and I'm glad they have).
This recent obsession of seeing alternate versions of yourself has only been made possible through the ever-advancing capabilities of AI, and it's getting to the point where it is scarily realistic. Just a few days ago, the winner of the very first AI art award was announced for a submission that looked like a vintage film photo. Yes, AI can be entertaining, it can be an incredibly helpful tool, but I think it is getting to the stage now where we need to be transparent about when and how we are using it.
Although companies such as Epik and Lensa claim to not use your images for any other purpose than to generate your photos, I can't help but be a little bit worried that my face could be used to train computers to generate realistic images of digital people in the future and I'd be none the wiser.
Big thanks to my friend Vicaas Hussain for allowing me to use his Epik-generated images!