2023 – The year of Giants, Trump’s arrest & My son painted this – or was it just A.I. ?

In Early September 2023 an image started to appear on Facebook, X and other social media. A tin type photograph that appeared to show an approximately 8 meter tall human in what was claimed to be Kandahar. It spread like wildfire amongst social media group focused on theories of ancient giants. Trouble is it wasn’t real. It would be joined by other AI images of Former Presidents, wars and Kids holding paintings.

It’s all Fake News

And this isn’t alone. When new broke that former US president was going to be indicted and arrested to appear in court a series of AI generated images of him being chased and forcibly detained by the police appeared. These started out by the creator clearly labelling them as an A.I. parody but they spread. As the BBC noted in their comment on the Fake pictures even Trump himself was not above using AI or AI altered images. Granted we all new they were fake but it demonstrates how easy it is to make false images of celebrity. In just recent days X (aka Twitter) have had to block Deep fake/AI generated sexualised images of Taylor Swift on the platform.

In reality the actual process was much more mundane. Although it produced one of 2023’s most iconic images in the form of Trump’s actual Mug shot.

And it’s not just Trump. AI images pop up claiming politicians of all persuasions are up to no good or being good

AI generated Image of Bernie Saunders
Before I get accused of Bias here you find Bernie Saunders. This was actually the worst one rendered of the set of four

I’ll not discuss Deep Fake (It essential uses two image usually of one person’s face to merge onto another person) here. I’ll focus on AI as image creation using a AI image creator making an image form scratch.

Social Media or is that Meddly-AI

And now Social media is awash with the stuff

Some of it frankly is bizarre. and the reason opaque . There are dozens of facebook feed push nonsense AI image purporting various kids, grandparents etc have created wonderous art pieces. This may have a basis in getting followers. If you gain about 10,000 before Facebook will start monetising videos you upload. It seems to suck in the gullible, bots and boomers.

Often labelled with lines like these above an image I made in a few seconds.

My daughter painted this. It was her first attempt. Let’s not be too harsh and encourage her with a like

AI generated image of girl holding picture of herself
take close look at the eyes

And then in various groups especially the conspiratorial or eosteric fringe you see things popping up to support their world view

AI generated UFO
The internet has been flooded with AI generated images to satisfy every conspiracy theorist’s cravings. But it’s not the first tech to do that

And that takes us back to the Giant

The Giant of Kandahar 1923

In late summer this image kept popping up all over the internet from X to Tik Tok. This is one of the first I can actually embed from early September from a FB stream

It was often picked up by folks of various religious persuasions (more on that later) whom believe in that their religion describes historical Giants.

But look again. the face s of the people, where’s the giant’s shadow ? You smell A.I ? And you’re right

The actual image can be traced back to the Cursed A.I group on Flickr in August 2023. This is one of several anarchic AI group on FB. It is not for the faint hearted or sensitive. You defiantly need to have your tongue in your cheek. It lives up to it’s name but what is cursed to one man is gold mine to another. You’ll get horrific nightmare vision, celebs bathing in beans and cars leaking coolant (don’t ask). Images vary from spoof Disney animation posters, to photorealistic AI images, to AI gone seriously wrong to shitposting.

The Giant of Kandahar in 1923 triggered a long running theme of Kandahar 1923 images . The image was posted in mid summer but by late August was being picked up elsewhere

Wait I read something about a Giant in Afganistan fighting US soldiers ?

And here’s the thing. There is a story that probably triggered the original on the cursed AI group as a spoof. That has been circulating online for about 7 years.

The story goes that US Special forces encountering a giant man near Kandahar in 2002. The were supposed to investigate the disappearance of another team. The second team find their bodies and a 12ft Giant. The Giant attacks and kills one soldier before being killed and his body is allegedly taken away by the US Military. It’s all covered up by the military/government.

And the story bar the fantastical elements sound true. The US alongside the Afghan army did conduct operations near Kandahar in 2002 against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces.

It is a story that pops up again and again. But there is no evidence it has any basis on reality. Now conspiracy theorists amongst you could say sites like Snopes or Military times would say that. But when cryptid wiki a site not exactly reknown for it scepticism says it is a hoax, well…...

So where did that come from ?

They all point to a L.A. Marzulli coming up with the story. He’s a creative whom along side alien theories and other Esoteric stuff has a big focus in on Nephilims which are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. These to some are Giant beings or fallen angels. Marzulli claims to have talked to one US soldier on that team but he is the only source for this and erm… has a vested interest in pushing the story. By 2016 he’d published both fiction and what he claimed were non fiction works on Nephilims as well as several documentaries. So he has somewhat of an interest in pushing this story or equally is more likely to believe someone’s tall tale.

But he’s not alone in pushing these ideas and for many folk of certain religious bents. Giants turn up in a host of religions so our big fella from Kandahar turned up in fringe Hindu, Islamic and other groups as well as certain conservative groups. And that’s before you get to the Cryptid fans who in fairness by and large recognised it was the stuff of nonsense even for them .

And it may be explains why these images were so successful in spreading

See I told you that AI stuff is evil !

Not really it’s a tool at the end of the day but one that makes it easy to create something and yes it is easy

AI generated Giant's skull
My stab at this Via Bing’s version of Dalle-3. The vintage style image gives you more leeway with errors but that giant must have had the best dentist in Kandahar. I also suspect give it 2 months and it’ll turn up on some crackpot site as real

But folk have been tweaking image long before AI was a thing.

The most famous recent images purported a Giant found in a national Geographic excavation. As Nat Geo points out themselves points out the images were created as an entry into digital manipulation contest back in the early 2000. The background images were of a real dig tweaked by the Digital artist IronKite. He replaced mastodon bones in the original image . Never intended to fool any one, it was came second in a digital editing competition.

But others used that image either to hoax others or in a weird way validate their world view. It has a had cyclical run turning up every few years on the internet as it has developed run with veneer or respectability by claiming falsely to be in publications like like Nat Geo or the Times of India. India’s Hindu Voice a monthly faith based magazine fooled into running it in 2007 as verbatim as being found in India.

The same image has been linked to host of other places like Saudi Arabia.

But as pointed out on this US conservative Christian website, some simple thinking tells you these ain’t real even if you do believe in Biblical Giants..

…. if these were real skeletal finds, just think of the publicity that would ensue. The scientist finding actual giants would be the toast of the world of anthropology. His academic career would be made. It would be on every newscast and in every magazine.

There were giants in those days. The Bible plainly tells us as much. We need not rely upon fables and fabrications to make our case in this regard.

Dr Tommy Mitchell, Answers In Genesis website

Okay so it’s computers fault ?

We been doing it for ages. And some times it’s not even deliberate. Take this line drawing from the mid 1700’s of the famed Henry Blacker

Engraving of Henry Blacker
Line engraving of Henry Blacker by Augustus Williams mid 1700’s. See this page for more details, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now you might say the illustrator deliberately drew Henry much bigger than other folk. But in fact Williams the Engraver was on the ball here. We know that Blacker was measured as 7 feet 4 inches tall which would make him a good NBA draft today and a inch taller than . Now even today 7ft 4″ is quite big but back in the mid 1700 when the average male was around 5ft 4″ in England he was pretty huge.

The man in front works out as being ~5ft 3″ or maybe a couple inches shorter if you allow for perspective. The other man is around ~5½ft. But Blacker’s hat and the perspective of the image conspire to make him look massive.

And without the fault of a camera folk have been misidentifying or faking Giants and other mythological creatures. some clearly were deliberate hoaxes

The exhumation of the hoax Cardiff Giant 1869
The exhumation of the Cardiff Giant 1869. A 10ft tall allegedly petrified giant. Turned out to be Hoax carved from Gypsum. Image in US Public domain via wikicommons

Hoax creations like the Cardiff Giant, were staples of the sideshow circuit. The Cardiff giant can still be seen today at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York although clearly labelled for what it is. Likewise there was big business in in making Fake Mummies to sell to unsuspecting Europeans and American. This was both for Victoriana era collecting but weirdly before that for European apothecaries as medicinal supplies prior to that

Back to photos though

Tweaking photos predates Photoshop and it’s rivals. The terms used like airbrush actually refer to physical ways a images were tweaked in the darkroom. And this has included some pretty impressive removals and additions over the years

Arguably one of the earliest examples of Photographic censorship. The image on the Left February 1897, records a meeting of the St. Petersburg chapter of the Union of Struggle for the Liberation of the Working Class. You can spot Lenin in both images. But Alexander Malchenko the bloke over Lenin’s right shoulder fell out of favour and was executed in 1930. His image was airbrushed out of official photographs. Until 1959 when he was posthumously rehabilitated. Images via wikicommons

Notably Soviet era Russia was rife with it in Propaganda images. Often to get rid of disgraced comrades in Russia al la Orwell’s 1984. But even the famous Flag on the Reichstag image was tweaked

The original Raising the Flag over the Reichstag
The original Raising the Flag over the Reichstag image above can be viewed today but when first published was heavily tweaked. Notably the Soldier supporting the flag is can be seen wearing two watches which could have suggested he had been looting. That was airbrushed out and more smoke would added for dramatic effect. See the Wikipedia article for more. Source Mil.ru, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

But they’re Russian , you wouldn’t get that in the West would you ?

Composite image of General Grant
This image of General Grant at City Point is actually a composite image. A portrait of Grant, another union officer on horseback and Union soldiers at City Points. L. C. Handy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Sadly we’re not immune to that in the West although it’s more likely to be the Press and others. A good recent example was the Sacking of Brian Walski who was covering the Iraq War in 2003. He Submitted a photograph that was a composite of 2 different images of a British Soldier interacting with Iraqi Civilians. He cut and pasted a group of civilians from one image into another to improve the composition.

But manipulations go further back still. Such as the Craze of spirit photographs sweeping the US in the years after the Civil War.

Purported Spirit Photograph of  the Late Abraham Lincoln with his wife ~1872
Purported Spirit Photograph of the Late Abraham Lincoln with his wife ~1872. Now debunked and likely a double exposure. Taken by William H Mumler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Other famous examples include the Cottingley Fairies which fooled Arthur Conan Doyle but turned out to be cardboard cutouts.

And even before the camera was a thing we’ve been defacing or tweaking artworks. From religious Iconoclasm to Damnatio memoriae carried out the Romans (and even earlier civilisations)

So Do we really need to worry about AI ?

Yes and no

If someone is going to edit images as we’ve seen they were doing it already. And there may not even be a need.

If you take the example of misinformation in the War in Ukraine. Agitators on both sides tend to use old images unrelated to the war. Much easier to show existing images and footage but tag them.

And yes you’ll find AI doctored images or the use of deep fakes but they tend to be less convincing. Agent provocateurs, trolls and state actors will use AI but will just be another tool in the armoury

AI Generated Boris
AI is currently a bit crap when it comes to text but like eyes and hands it is improving. Created in stable diffusion SDXL 1.0 via Nightcafe

But AI is improving, easily accessible and requires almost no skills to use (although some prompt knowledge goes a long way). This makes it easier to create images both for good and harm. But as with prior technologies it’s the user who decided what to do with it.

It adds another dimension to the AI image debate.

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