Do you remember the Great Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that hit the Pacific Northwest in 2001? Well, you shouldn’t, because it never happened. But there are now photos of this completely fake event circulating on the internet. And it’s a great case study in how images created with artificial intelligence tools like Midjourney can rewrite history with minimal effort.
Photo-realistic images of the fake tragedy were posted to the Midjourney forum on Reddit a few days ago, where people who experiment with AI art share their creations. The post became so popular that it was pushed to the so-called “front page” of Reddit, where some people who didn’t realize they were looking at AI-generated images admitted they thought it must be real.
“I was immediately convinced because I didn’t have my guard up at all. I use the software often, edit art & photography for my current job, and have a healthy dose of fear of the singularity and STILL, my brain gave off zero ‘This ain’t real’ signals,” one user commented.
The completely fake Great Cascadia earthquake is registered as a 9.1, according to Reddit, and the photos of the devastation look terrible. The Reddit post has 20 images that could easily pass as a real historical event. But, again, these aren’t real photos. None of this happened.
The photos even have captions that explain the fake events, such as, “Rescue workers in Vancouver, BC, pull trapped survivors from the rubble of a collapsed bookstore.” The details give the whole thing an air of legitimacy, despite the fact that it’s all a complete fiction.
Some of the images are chilling just for how much they resemble the aftermath of the very real terror attacks on September 11, 2001. The AI image creators clearly drew inspiration from that day for these fake photos.
As countless internet sleuths have learned, the quickest way to tell if you’re looking at an image that’s been created with AI is to look at the hands and teeth. AI still struggles with creating hands for some reason.
For example, take a look at the fake photo below. Notice anything weird about the visible hand?
That person is facing away from the camera, but their hand is holding that Canadian flag in a way that would perplex even the most skilled circus contortionist.
As another commenter points out, for some reason these images aren’t being flagged by AI-detection software, like the site at Hugging Face. For example, Iran ran that Canadian flag image through the Hugging Face AI Detector software and it only came back with a 54% likelihood that it was fake. The second image in this post came back as 86% real, which most certainly is not.
Midjourney lets anyone create incredibly realistic images by merely typing out text, and the photo-realistic images are created in their minutes, which has led to confusion on social media in recent months. We’ve seen everything from Donald Trump getting arrested to Pope Francis wearing an enormous puffer coat.
Trump even shared a fake photo of himself praying, but it was actually generated using the same artificial intelligence tools that created the fake Cascadia earthquake of April 3, 2001. Another president—this time George W. Bush—got the AI treatment in his fake visit to Tacoma, Washington after the fake quake.
While it’s one thing to create fake news, creating fake history that humans may or may not remember is definitely a new wrinkle for those of us who live so much of our lives online. And as this technology proliferates, it’ll only get harder to tell which images are real and which are fake.
The machines will figure out how to create better human hands sooner or later. And when that day comes, we’ll all be left to wonder if we really trust our lying eyes.