Asian MIT Student Asks AI for a Pro Headshot, Gets Turned White

MIT student's AI headshot
Rona Wang, left, and the AI headshot, right, which turned her Caucasian.

An Asian MIT student asked an artificial intelligence (AI) to generate a professional headshot but the program turned her white — underlining biases inherent within AI.

Rona Wang, 24, asked the Playground AI app for a “professional LinkedIn profile photo.” Along with the text prompt, she fed the AI a source photo; an image of herself.

The source photo shows Wang, who has black hair and dark eyes, in an MIT sweater but the image that the AI generated for her shows a Caucasian girl with blue eyes; a different profile to Wang.

“My initial reaction upon seeing the result was amusement,” Wang tells Insider. “However, I’m glad to see that this has catalyzed a larger conversation around AI bias and who is or isn’t included in this new wave of technology.”

Wang says that racial bias is a recurring issue with AI tools and that the experience has put her off using the image synthesis tools.

“I haven’t gotten any usable results from AI photo generators or editors yet, so I’ll have to go without a new LinkedIn profile photo for now,” she says.

“I definitely think it’s a problem. I hope people who are making software are aware of these biases and thinking about ways to mitigate them.”

Playground AI’s founder Suhail Doshi responded to Wang’s post saying: “The models aren’t instructable like that so it’ll pick any generic thing based on the prompt. Unfortunately, they’re not smart enough.”

He later added that the company is “displeased” with the result and is hoping to fix it.

Bias in AI

In November last year, PetaPixel reported on the Stable Diffusion Bias Explorer, a tool that lets users combine descriptive terms and see firsthand how the AI model maps them to racial and gender stereotypes.

The research from the AI firm HuggingFace shows that inputting the word “CEO” into an AI image generator almost always generates images of men.