You may have noticed an uptick in weird forced smiles on celebrities and gorgeous gender-swapped selfies of your friends over the past couple days. This is not the result of an enforced “happiness” mandate or a wave of progressive attitudes toward gender roles in America; it is the product of a viral app, because everything is the product of a viral app. Here’s the standard-issue deal:
FaceApp uploads an image of your face to a neural net, which uses vast quantities of data about what “old” or “young” people or “women” or “men” look like to then add some wrinkles and add or remove facial hair. It’s convincing stuff, matching the general tone and picture quality of the original image and eerily extrapolating hair growth in particular. It’s not perfect: Their “hot” filter, in particular, has a bad habit of lightening the skin tone of the target face, which is not an ideal programmatic definition of “hot,” to put it mildly.
The app’s CEO has since apologized for this, changing the “hot” setting to a “sparkle” symbol while they figure out a definition of “hot” that isn’t “smudgy Andrew Garfield.” The app itself has been out since earlier this year, but only catching on now; presumably its newfound virality will lead to an increase in creepily convincing automated modifications of faces that we can send to friends unannounced. Some of the best stuff to come out of it so far has been outside of the realm of selfies:
As The Verge points out, this is part of a massive sea change in how artificial intelligence can be used to draw images, and, while it’s most fun on faces that aren’t your own, there will also probably need to be some public education about this. In a time when people are uniquely attuned to massive, opinion-altering hoaxes, the fact that you can make a sitting president look like they are saying or doing anything is as funny as it is scary:
For now, though, please enjoy the brief heyday for making political jokes (Donald Trump does look like Hillary Clinton!) and creeping out your friends and family members with pictures of their newborn children as wrinkly old men. The app is free; please strike while the iron is hot and transform your friends, family, and least favorite celebrities into soulless grinning goons immediately.