Who are you looking at?

Posted 2019-03-07 by Alex Lennon
A man holding up a piece of paper with a question mark written on it, obscuring his face

In a seperate tab, go to thispersondoesnotexist.com and look at the person. Then reload the page a couple of times and take a few moments on each one.

How many of you felt a human connection?

The truth is in the name. The faces you looked at are not real people, and never will be. They’re developed by Software Engineer Philip Wang, who built the site with algorithms called generative adversarial networks (GANs). Every time you refresh the page, the network generates a completely new facial image.

I found myself mesmerised by this. I think we all naturally, and very quickly, spin up this background story of someone when we look at someone, especially looking into the eyes of a person for the first time. After all, “the eyes are window to the soul”.

It’s haunting looking into the eyes of these “people” and knowing they have no story, they have no past, no present, no future. They’re just data presented in a way that looks human.

Without getting too metaphysical, if nothing else I wanted to draw your attention to something on the horizon. Recently, Google Assistant was showcased booking appointments to real people over the phone.

Now, as thispersondoesnotexist.com has shown us, it’s not an unimaginable leap to see a future where we don’t even realise we’re talking face-to-face with a machine. Scary or incredible?

Astronaut looking at phone while sitting on a ringed planet.

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