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The Lensa Magic Avatar Feature Needs Attention

The app uses Stable Diffusion and can generate inappropriate and grotesque material

We’ve covered ChatGPT, OpenAI’s new text generator, quite a bit the last few weeks here at Mind Matters, but lest we forget, AI has made great strides in image generation, too. Another explosive AI tool is Lensa, an app that uses Midjourney’s Stable Diffusion model.

Lensa was first developed by Prisma Labs in 2018 as a photo editing tool, but in late 2022, it added the “Magic Avatar” feature, which allows users to recreate their portraits artistically. Since then, it has skyrocketed to popularity alongside its AI cousin, ChatGPT.

Despite its reputation as a “fun app,” some users have complained that the app produced sexualized and racialized avatars of themselves. In an Insider article, Bethany Biron writes,

Melissa Heikkilä, a reporter for MIT Technology Review, wrote in an article in December that 16 of the 100 avatars she received were topless, while an additional 14 put her in ‘extremely skimpy clothes and overtly sexualized poses.’ She’s not alone. In a survey Within Health, a digital service that assists with mental health and eating disorders, conducted in December, 80% of respondents said they felt Lensa sexualized their images.”

-Bethany Biron, Lensa AI Raises Serious Concerns Over Sexualization, Art Theft, Data (businessinsider.com)

The app’s dependence on Stable Diffusion may be to blame. Stable Diffusion uses millions of preexisting images from the internet. Even with its anti-nudity policy, it’s nigh impossible to evade scandalous results when such an algorithmic model is in the mix.

Olivia Snow wrote for Wired in December,

Lensa’s terms of service instruct users to submit only appropriate content containing ‘no nudes’ and ‘no kids, adults only.’ And yet, many users—primarily women—have noticed that even when they upload modest photos, the app not only generates nudes but also ascribes cartoonishly sexualized features.”

-Olivia Snow, ‘Magic Avatar’ App Lensa Generated Nudes From My Childhood Photos | WIRED

The most disturbing report regarding Lensa is its potential to generate inappropriate images of children. Snow goes on to describe how Lensa took photos from her childhood and paired them with revealing adolescent and adult bodies.

This is a dark side of the AI revolution that will come with cost if it isn’t dealt with by the companies responsible. With all this AI tech being so new, its many downsides and impact on society is yet to be fully surmised.

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The Lensa Magic Avatar Feature Needs Attention