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About a week ago, I noticed a trend among the people I follow on Instagram: Many of them were sharing illustrations of themselves, often in fantasy-esque settings.
I didn’t think much of it at first, mainly because social media is full of different filters. Then people began sharing the source of these images: Lensa AI, a photo and video editing app that offers “magic avatars” created with artificial intelligence, or AI.
To create an avatar, a user must upload 10-20 photos of a person that meet specific requirements, such as a variety of facial expressions and backgrounds. Then you need to pay a fee, which ranges from $3.99 to $7.99 and up depending on how many avatars you want to receive and if you’re already a Lensa subscriber.
According to the app, the avatars “consume tremendous computerization power to create amazing avatars,” which is why it costs an additional fee on top of the subscription to the app. This is where I took a pause. I was prepared to give photos of myself to Lensa in order to join in on the trend and see my own AI images. But I’d rather pay an artist to create avatars of me than an app. I also couldn’t believe how many people were willingly paying for these avatars.
“Anyone else think it’s weird to see so many start paying money for an AI selfie app? Like after months of talking about its ethical issues, even artists are hopping right in. Not ideal tbh,” tweeted @arvalis.
Others are pointing out other issues with the avatars, including the fact that women are receiving avatars that are sexualized or include some nudity, despite the app saying it won’t accept photos with nudity in it to train the AI. Artists are also asking people not to use the app, claiming that AI art steals from actual artists.
Prisma Labs, the company behind Lensa, has done a series of tweet threads related to the complaints about the app. “As cinema didn’t kill theater and accounting software hasn’t eradicated the profession, AI won’t replace artists but can become a great assisting tool,” the company said on Twitter. In another tweet, it said that a “user’s photos and the associated model are erased permanently from our servers” once the avatars are created.
Since people began discussing the issues around Lensa’s magic avatars, I’ve seen fewer of the avatars shared on social platforms. Lensa, however, remains the #1 free app on both the Apple and Google Play stores. Other AI art apps are also in the top 5 for both Apple and Google.
Why it matters
This year, we’re seen several AI art programs go viral and take over social platforms. There was DALL-E, which gave us cursed memes and images based on text prompts. And Loab, a creepy image of a woman produced by AI. Now there’s Lensa’s controversial magic avatars.
AI art is now a part of internet culture, and we need to stop and think about how it will affect us all in the future.