Pope Francis, but make it fashionable. A person playing with Midjourney, the AI arts program, went viral this weekend for snapping an image of the Pope wearing a jacket that pulled off a Balenciaga runway. The image went viral, not because it was so unrealistically absurd, but because it was used to be credible. The pope does have an IV, but not exactly like this.
Balenciaga’s Pope went so massively viral in a way the internet hasn’t seen before with AI art, noted internet culture expert Ryan Broderick. The image appears to have been posted on Friday on the Midjourney subreddit alongside three other versions of the image; the one that ended up going viral is the most convincing, maybe because of the lighting or the background. Whatever it was, it worked: many people thought it was real. I thought it was real before I started searching Google for other photos of whatever this outing was. Chrissy Teigen thought it was real, like many others.
If you look closely, you can begin to see the details that confirm it’s fake: a weird shadow around the glasses, a strange grip on what the pope is holding, a shimmering haze. But when you scroll Twitter, you don’t see those details up close; you chuckle at the image, admire the pope’s fit, then keep scrolling. It’s especially convincing when you see the fake image next to real — and creepy — photos of the Pope.
Which brings us back to the credibility of the pope wearing a Balenciaga coat. This is the same man who meets people in front of a huge sculpture that looks straight Diablo 4. The same pope who got a papal Lamborghini which eventually sold for $1.2 million at a charity auction. (Honestly, when doing research for this story, I thought the Lamborghini photo could also be forged – it isn’t.) His Holiness is the first pope to tweet. Heck, Esquire said Pope Benedict on his best dressed list in 2007and the Vatican make a statement in response: “In summary, the Pope does not wear Prada, but Christ,” it said. Pope Francis created Esquire’s Best Dressed List in 2013.
The puffy pope photo was probably the first time a large number of people have been fooled by AI art, and as programs like Midjourney continue to improve, it certainly won’t be the last. If The Verge said itthe pope and his ailing puffercoat going incredibly viral is “both scary and comforting, as it suggests there is currently a limit to what AI counterfeits are credible, but scary because this technology is moving too fast to live up to current reassurances for long.”