Midjourney: Controversial AI image tool stops free trials after ‘abuse’

Site had been used to create fake pictures of Donald Trump being arrested and the Pope wearing a stylish coat

Andrew Griffin
Friday 31 March 2023 18:06 BST

Midjourney, the controversial image generating AI, has stopped free trials after it says it was “abused”.

The change comes after a range of high-profile fake images were created using the tool, including pictures of Donald Trump being arrested and the Pope wearing a stylish jacket.

After that controversy, Midjourney chief executive announced on Discord that the site was stopping its free trials amid “extraordinary demand and trial abuse”. The comapny had tried other options, including new safeguards, but they had not been enough to stop people misusing the service during trial periods, he said.

The change does not appear to be a direct response to those images. The problem was the result of “massive amounts of people making throwaway accounts to get free images”, which appeared to have been encouraged by a “viral how-to video in China”, Mr Holz told The Verge.

Initial reports had linked the two events, because of Mr Holz’s reference to abuse. But those images are thought to have been created by the most recent version of Midjourney – version 5 – which is not available to free users anyway.

That new update has fixed many of the longstanding errors in Midjourney, including its difficulty drawing hands, which had previously been a relatively easy way of recognising AI fakes. It is that increased accuracy that appears to have led to it being used to create those viral images of fake news events.

It does however mark another controversy for generative AI in a week that has seen a flurry of fake photos, a call to end development of new AI systems in the name of safety, and a ban on ChatGPT in China.

Midjourney has faced controversy over the limits it sets on the use of its system in the past. It has imposed certain rules to avoid “drama”, Mr Holz said, but has relatively loose rules about how its system can be used.

In the wake of the flurry of fake Donald Trump images, for instance, Midjourney blocked the word “arrest” and banned the person who had made them. But that did not appear to reflect any broader policy change and users quickly found ways around those limits, such as describing more specifically what an arrest might look like.

Mr Holz told The Verge that the free trials might come back, once the company had found a way of ensuring that people were not creating multiple accounts to abuse them.

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