What appeared to be a photo of Pope Francis wearing a long, bright white puffer jacket went viral over the weekend for it's outlandishness.
What many people apparently failed to realize was that the image was AI generated.
The image in question?
Pablo Xavier, a 31-year-old construction worker from the Chicago area, used AI art tool Midjourney to generate the image. He chose not to share his surname because he was worried about possible backlash over the image.
Pablo Xavier told BuzzFeed News that he was tripping on shrooms when he came up with the idea for image.
"I’m trying to figure out ways to make something funny because that’s what I usually try to do. I try to do funny stuff or trippy art — psychedelic stuff."
The idea for the prompt just came to him.
"It just dawned on me: I should do the Pope. Then it was just coming like water: ‘The Pope in Balenciaga puffy coat, Moncler, walking the streets of Rome, Paris,’ stuff like that."
Pablo Xavier said that he started using Midjourney as a way to cope with the loss of his brother, who died in November.
"It pretty much just all started with that, just dealing with grief and making images of my past brother. I fell in love with it after that."
He generated the images with Midjourney last Friday afternoon, and quickly shared them to the Facebook group AI Art Universe, and then to Reddit. The way the images were received was definitely not what he was expecting, though.
Within a few hours of posting them, he was banned from Reddit and the images were going viral on multiple social media platforms.
Some who saw them just thought they were interesting or funny, some figured out that they were AI-generated even if that information hadn't been brought along with the images, but many thought they were real or were outraged by the perceived slight towards the Catholic leader.
"I figured I was going to get backlash. I just didn’t think it was going to be to this magnitude."
Pablo Xavier was raised Catholic, but told BuzzFeed he no longer feels connected to the religion. He didn't chose the pope as his subject out of malice or ill-will towards the church though.
"I just thought it was funny to see the Pope in a funny jacket."
He expressed concern that so many people saw the images, believed they were real, and then ran with it — calling it "very scary" that people "thought it was real without questioning it."
Especially concerning were the people who started using his AI-generated images to critique the Catholic Church's spending habits.
Pablo Xavier was definitely not okay with his images being used this way, as they are fictional.
"I feel like sh*t. It’s crazy."
Many were shocked to learn of the image's artificial origin, including Chrissy Teigen.
The whole situation with his images going viral helped Pablo Xavier to understand the potential impact of AI-generated images on our society, and the need for regulations.
Pablo Xavier said:
"I didn’t even think about that [before]. It’s definitely going to get serious if they don’t start implementing laws to regulate it."
He didn't think that AI-generated images should be banned completely, though, just used responsibly.
“As far as using it for regular images, if you want to do a Vincent van Gogh, I feel that kind of stuff is fine. Using it for public figures, that might be the line."
He concluded, after a pause:
"That might be the line.”