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Home / More Lifestyle / Recharge: This column does not exist

Recharge: This column does not exist

A paean to going down the rabbit hole of bot-generated fun.

more-lifestyle Updated: May 27, 2020 20:07 IST
Rachel Lopez
Rachel Lopez
Hindustan Times, Delhi
If you haven’t already, check out ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. The site displays a new human face every time you refresh the page.
If you haven’t already, check out ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. The site displays a new human face every time you refresh the page.

If you haven’t already, check out ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. The site displays a new human face every time you refresh the page. You might encounter a curly-haired young woman, a bespectacled gentleman, a freckled brown granny, a black teen grinning like he’s in a toothpaste ad.

Here’s the catch: none of these people is real; each is a composite drawn from features in photo databases and patched together by artificial intelligence. Scary, right? When the site debuted last year, there was understandably fascination and fear.

Phillip Wang, a former software engineer with Uber, created it in his free time using recently released StyleGAN software. The programme was already being used to create realistic-looking and sounding DeepFake videos, but Wang’s just-for-fun site had taken the fraud out of the fakery. Viewers could enjoy AI’s version of reality without compromising their own.

And so spawned a parallel universe of bot-generated fun. Wang’s next project was ThisCatDoesNotExist, which generates fictitious felines (because what else would stir up half the internet so effectively?). The results aren’t as good – cats are too furry, too varied in their species and altogether to catty to conform to the software’s data requirements. So the cats end up with odd proportions or features.

It’s easier to fall for some of the sites inspired by his original one. ThisRentalDoesnotExist is a spoof on glammed up AirBnB-type home rentals and the flowery phrasing typical of such listings. White curtains fly into a sea breeze, fruit bowls rest on cane tables, an Art Deco lampshade is invariably in one corner. They’re all just four minutes from the Metro station, quiet on weekends or have luxuriously large bedrooms. Turns out, there are only so many ways to sell a space after all.

It’s harder to invent a word. Shakespeare could do it, JK Rowling too. But can AI? ThisWordDoesNotExist is generating some surprisingly believable babble, with definitions too. What’s a snowwarp? It’s the extent of precipitation compared to the extent of snow or snowmass for a year. Could you get inosititis? It’s a fictitious infection in which a bacterium becomes prominent in the stomach or intestine. Could we one day use déliterée? It’s a made-up word for an award for literary achievement or a stellar exhibition.

Imgflip.com has a mildly funny AI-based meme generator. You might like ThisWaifuDoesNotExist and ThisFursonaDoesNotExist, which create manga and furry humanoid iterations. But that’s just fantasy from fantasy, a twice-removed un-reality that would have Plato in a twist. As more sites deploy AI creatively, there’s even a master site tracking them all: ThisXDoesNotExist. It’s all so unreal, perhaps I’m making it all up. You’ll have to confirm if ThisColumnDoesNotExist.

Over the moon about something that’s still under the radar? Tell me at rachel.lopez@htlive.com

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