You now see them a lot on social media: school photos of people from the time when they were just starting to puberty. But these aren’t real photos at all. Artificial intelligence creates a 1990s version of the person portrayed.
This phenomenon is made possible by an app called Epik. Users upload a series of eight to twelve selfies, make a nominal payment, and patiently await the transformation. In due time, they receive a treasure trove of images, each one perfectly emulating the style of a nineties school portrait. Epik aptly dubs this feature the “AI Yearbook.”
It’s akin to a time-traveling experience. These images depict a youthful, yet entirely fictitious, version of the subject set against the backdrop of a quintessential cloud motif. The assortment of photos delivered by Epik is categorized according to a selection of archetypical roles. There’s the studious scholar, often donning oversized glasses and clutching a stack of books. Then, there’s the athlete, captured mid-throw, sporting a classic sports jacket.
According to media psychologist Bjarne Timonen, it’s all about garnering attention. He describes it as “a benign form of self-admiration,” asserting that, “it garners attention and rewards you with likes and comments.”
Interestingly, these AI-rendered photos seem to find a more receptive audience than genuine school portraits from days gone by. “These images enhance your features a bit. Suddenly, you’re portrayed as a rugged individual with a luxuriant head of hair,” Timonen observes. “Or perhaps you opt to share a photo of yourself as a bookish enthusiast. It’s amusing and it certainly commands attention.”
Notably, blemishes and imperfections are conspicuously absent in these images. Additionally, since Epik aims to amplify familiar American school stereotypes, the resulting photos tend to be more exaggerated than the genuine teenage portraits of most individuals.