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AI-generated puffy pontiff image inspires new warning from Pope Francis

Enlarge / A cropped portion of an AI-generated image of Pope Francis wearing a puffy coat that went viral in March 2023. (credit: @skyferrori on Twitter / Getty Images (background))

After a realistic AI-generated image of Pope Francis in a puffy coat went viral on social media last year, the Pope himself apparently took notice, reports Reuters. In a message for the 58th World Day of Social Communications, Francis writes, “We need but think of the long-standing problem of disinformation in the form of fake news, which today can employ ‘deepfakes,’ namely the creation and diffusion of images that appear perfectly plausible but false (I too have been an object of this).”

The Pope also warns about audio messages that “use a person’s voice to say things which that person never said,” he continues. “The technology of simulation behind these programs can be useful in certain specific fields, but it becomes perverse when it distorts our relationship with others and with reality.”

In March 2023, a Twitter user named “skyferrori” used the Midjourney v5 image synthesis service to create a convincing fake photo of Pope Francis wearing a long white puffer coat and posted it on the service. It quickly went viral and today stands at over 197,000 likes and 28.1 million views. Many people thought it was a real photo, and it was notable at the time for being one of the first AI-generated images that fooled a large audience online.

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