My avatars were cartoonishly pornified, while my male colleagues got to be astronauts, explorers, and inventors.
When I tried the new viral AI avatar app Lensa, I was hoping to get results similar to some of my colleagues at MIT Technology Review. The digital retouching app was first launched in 2018 but has recently become wildly popular thanks to the addition of Magic Avatars, an AI-powered feature which generates digital portraits of people based on their selfies.
But while Lensa generated realistic yet flattering avatars for them—think astronauts, fierce warriors, and cool cover photos for electronic music albums— I got tons of nudes. Out of 100 avatars I generated, 16 were topless, and in another 14 it had put me in extremely skimpy clothes and overtly sexualized poses.
I have Asian heritage, and that seems to be the only thing the AI model picked up on from my selfies. I got images of generic Asian women clearly modeled on anime or video-game characters. Or most likely porn, considering the sizable chunk of my avatars that were nude or showed a lot of skin. A couple of my avatars appeared to be crying. My white female colleague got significantly fewer sexualized images, with only a couple of nudes and hints of cleavage. Another colleague with Chinese heritage got results similar to mine: reams and reams of pornified avatars.