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This viral AI image fooled the world, and you may have already seen it

Thought you could point out an AI-generated image? Well, this viral image tricked lots of folks online this weekend — and you just might be one of them.

The absurd image of the Pope in a puffy white coat that spread across Twitter was, in fact, generated with Midjourney. It quickly became a meme, but very few people were commenting on the true source of the image.

The AI-generated image of the Pope wearing a puffy coat.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Celebrities like Chrissy Teigen jumped in, admitting that that they were also fooled by the Pope’s puffer jacket.

I thought the pope’s puffer jacket was real and didnt give it a second thought. no way am I surviving the future of technology

— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) March 26, 2023

While the image is certainly convincing, there are technical details that give away the photo as a fake. The most notable detail is the glasses’ shadow across the Pope’s face, which look strange and unnatural.

An AI image of the Pope in a puffy coat.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This Pope image is far from the only AI-generated image that has taken off. An image of Trump being handcuffed and arrested also went viral last week, though that one didn’t fool as many people, perhaps because of the gravity of the subject matter.

In the case of the Pope, it was the perfect storm of believability. And it’ll likely not be the last. As the situation with AI continues to evolve (and as more of the tools become available in applications like Adobe Express or Bing Image Creator), the internet is going to be filled with these AI-generated images. Whether or not we find news ways of identifying these images, we’ll all need to be a bit more careful with how we judge the images that show up in our social media feeds.

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Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen is the Senior editor of computing, managing all content covering laptops, monitors, PC hardware, Macs, and more.
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