Israel Kamakawiwo'ole was best known for playing ukulele and singing in dulcet tones on a beautiful cover of Judy Garland's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" — but now, people turning to Google to learn about his fascinating career are being shown an uncanny AI-generated render instead of an actual photograph.
First pointed out by Ethan Mollick of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, Google's top image result when Googling the late Hawaiian singer is an AI creation. As Mollick explained, the first image that crops up in the search engine's "knowledge panel" results is not a real photo of Kamakawiwo'ole, but rather is a "Midjourney creation right from Reddit" that shows him playing a mutated-looking guitar, rather than his signature uke.
The image was posted to the r/Midjourney subreddit four months ago and included what is no doubt part of the AI image generator's prompt: "A happy Israel Kamakawiwoʻole." It's unclear how long the image has shown up in Google searches for the singer's name.
When we sought to replicate the Wharton AI researcher's findings, Futurism found in both regular Google Chrome search and in an Incognito window that the image still appears at the top of the site's knowledge panel search results.
Curiously enough, when selecting the AI-optimized option on Google, the Midjourney image from Reddit does not show up.
When Futurism reached out to Google about the AI-generated dupes, we received a pretty boilerplate response — and, notably, the images have not yet been taken down.
"We've rolled out new tools like About this image to help people quickly and easily assess the context and credibility of images," a Google spokesperson told Futurism in an email. "Given the scale of the open web, however, it’s possible that our systems might not always select the best images regardless of how those images are produced, AI-generated or not."
"We’re actively building continued quality improvements for features like Knowledge Panels to surface reliable, representative imagery as this space evolves," the statement continued.
Sure, AI-generated content is creating new challenges for companies like Google that are tasked with sorting vast amounts of human- and machine-generated content on the web. But that sort of statement lets Google off the hook when this sort of thing happens — and believe us, this sort of thing, and much worse, keeps happening over there.
It also, most importantly, fails to adequately respond to the actual issue at hand: that there are AI fakes and falsehoods populating the very first search results for a growing list of queries, which visually equates them with reality.
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