This site can turn pixelised faces into realistic photos, but it has a white bias

New AI-powered web-based app ‘face depixeliser’ can turn pixelated images of faces into high resolution pictures, but it doesn’t necessarily reveal the actual person. The app can generate an alternative image and turns the pixelated photo into a new hi-res photo.

People on Twitter have already tried the site with their own faces. They’ve also tried taking pixelated old 8 bit faces from games and turning it into what they might look like in hi-res. Turning an pixelated picture of Mario into a higher-res photo was a mistake.

https://twitter.com/jeremyfaivre/status/1274305351060422656

The white bias

However, when people of colour tried putting their own photos into the site, the results always turned them… white. For example, when a low-resolution picture of Barack Obama was uploaded into the face depixeliser, and the output is a white man. A picture of Lucy Liu would also turn her white.

https://twitter.com/Chicken3gg/status/1274314622447820801
https://twitter.com/osazuwa/status/1274448630183845888

“It does appear that PULSE is producing white faces much more frequently than faces of people of colour. This bias is likely inherited from the dataset StyleGAN was trained on… though there could be other factors that we are unaware of,” said creators of PULSE, which is the algorithm that is generating these images uses a technique known as upscaling to process visual data.

The algorithm doing this work is StyleGAN, which was created by researchers from NVIDIA. They are also responsible for making those eerily realistic human faces that you can see on websites like ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. The faces generated are often used to generate fake social media profiles.

The white bias is common in machine learning, and is one of the reasons facial recognition algorithms perform worse on non-white and female faces. Not coincidentally, it’s white men who dominate AI research.

I wanted to try the site myself, but sadly the face depixeliser “has a daily cap on downloads”. They are currently using Google Drive to “store model weights”. If you are interested in seeing what you’d look like as a white person, I suggest you come back another day to try it.

Follow the directions given on the site. However, be prepared to be disappointed as you may receive an error message saying “Google Drive Quota Exceeded” or “No such file or directory: ‘/content/pulse/runs/face.png'”. 

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Dzamira Dzafri