The Learning Perv: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Lensa’s NSFW AI

Drew Grant

Drew Grant is dot.LA's Senior Editor. She's a media veteran with over 15-plus years covering entertainment and local journalism. During her tenure at The New York Observer, she founded one of their most popular verticals, tvDownload, and transitioned from generalist to Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture, overseeing a freelance contributor network and ushering in the paper's redesign. More recently, she was Senior Editor of Special Projects at Collider, a writer for RottenTomatoes streaming series on Peacock and a consulting editor at RealClearLife, Ranker and GritDaily. You can find her across all social media platforms as @Videodrew and send tips to

Drew Grant in Lensa AI art
Drew Grant

It took me 48 hours to realize Lensa might have a problem.

“Is that my left arm or my boob?” I asked my boyfriend, which is not what I’d consider a GREAT question to have to ask when using photo editing software.

“Huh,” my boyfriend said. “Well, it has a nipple.”

Well then.

I had already spent an embarrassing amount of money downloading nearly 1,000 high-definition images of myself generated by AI through an app called Lensa as part of its new “Magical Avatar” feature. There are many reasons to cock an eyebrow at the results, some of which have been covered extensively in the last few days in a mounting moral panic as Lensa has shot itself to the #1 slot in the app store.

The way it works is users upload 10-20 photos of themselves from their camera roll. There are a few suggestions for best results: the pictures should show different angles, different outfits, different expressions. They shouldn’t all be from the same day. (“No photoshoots.”) Only one person in the frame, so the system doesn’t confuse you for someone else.

Lensa runs on Stable Diffusion, a deep-learning mathematical method that can generate images based on text or picture prompts, in this case taking your selfies and ‘smoothing’ them into composites that use elements from every photo. That composite can then be used to make the second generation of images, so you get hundreds of variations with no identical pictures that hit somewhere between the Uncanny Valley and one of those magic mirrors Snow White’s stepmother had. The tech has been around since 2019 and can be found on other AI image generators, of which Dall-E is the most famous example. Using its latent diffusion model and a 400 million image dataset called CLIP, Lensa can spit back 200 photos across 10 different art styles.

Though the tech has been around a few years, the rise in its use over the last several days may have you feeling caught off guard for a singularity that suddenly appears to have been bumped up to sometime before Christmas. ChatGPT made headlines this week for its ability to maybe write your term papers, but that’s the least it can do. It can program code, break down complex concepts and equations to explain to a second grader, generate fake news and prevent its dissemination.

It seems insane that when confronted with the Asminovian reality we’ve been waiting for with either excitement, dread or a mixture of both, the first thing we do is use it for selfies and homework. Yet here I was, filling up almost an entire phone’s worth of pictures of me as fairy princesses, anime characters, metallic cyborgs, Lara Croftian figures, and cosmic goddesses.

And in the span of Friday night to Sunday morning, I watched new sets reveal more and more of me. Suddenly the addition of a nipple went from a Cronenbergian anomaly to the standard, with almost every photo showing me with revealing cleavage or completely topless, even though I’d never submitted a topless photo. This was as true for the male-identified photos as the ones where I listed myself as a woman (Lensa also offers an “other” option, which I haven’t tried.)

Drew Grant

When I changed my selected gender from female to male: boom, suddenly, I got to go to space and look like Elon Musk’s Twitter profile, where he’s sort of dressed like Tony Stark. But no matter which photos I entered or how I self-identified, one thing was becoming more evident as the weekend went on: Lensa imagined me without my clothes on. And it was getting better at it.

Was it disconcerting? A little. The arm-boob fusion was more hilarious than anything else, but as someone with a larger chest, it would be weirder if the AI had missed that detail completely. But some of the images had cropped my head off entirely to focus just on my chest, which…why?

Drew as a baby with another face behind her

Drew Grant

Drew as a "male" preference

According to AI expert Sabri Sansoy, the problem isn’t with Lensa’s tech but most likely with human fallibility.

“I guarantee you a lot of that stuff is mislabeled,” said Sansoy, a robotics and machine learning consultant based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sansoy has worked in AI since 2015 and claims that human error can lead to some wonky results. “Pretty much 80% of any data science project or AI project is all about labeling the data. When you’re talking in the billions (of photos), people get tired, they get bored, they mislabel things and then the machine doesn’t work correctly.”

Sansoy gave the example of a liquor client who wanted software that could automatically identify their brand in a photo; to train the program to do the task, the consultant had first to hire human production assistants to comb through images of bars and draw boxes around all the bottles of whiskey. But eventually, the mind-numbing work led to mistakes as the assistants got tired or distracted, resulting in the AI learning from bad data and mislabeled images. When the program confuses a cat for a bottle of whiskey, it’s not because it was broken. It’s because someone accidentally circled a cat.

So maybe someone forgot to circle the nudes when programming Stable Diffusion’s neural net used by Lensa. That’s a very generous interpretation that would explain a baseline amount of cleavage shots. But it doesn’t explain what I and many others were witnessing, which was an evolution from cute profile pics to Brassier thumbnails.

When I reached out for comment via email, a Lensa spokesperson responded not by directing us to a PR statement but actually took the time to address each point I’d raised. “It would not be entirely accurate to state that this matter is exclusive to female users,” said the Lensa spokesperson, “or that it is on the rise. Sporadic sexualization is observed across all gender categories, although in different ways. Please see attached examples.” Unfortunately, they were not for external use, but I can tell you they were of shirtless men who all had rippling six packs, hubba hubba.

“The stable Diffusion Model was trained on unfiltered Internet content, so it reflects the biases humans incorporate into the images they produce,” continued the response. Creators acknowledge the possibility of societal biases. So do we.” It reiterated the company was working on updating its NSFW filters.

As for my insight about any gender-specific styles, the spokesperson added: “The end results across all gender categories are generated in line with the same artistic principles. The following styles can be applied to all groups, regardless of their identity: Anime and Stylish.”

I found myself wondering if Lensa was also relying on AI to handle their PR, before surprising myself by not caring all that much. If I couldn’t tell, did it even matter? This is either a testament to how quickly our brains adapt and become numb to even the most incredible of circumstances; or the sorry state of hack-flack relationships, where the gold standard of communication is a streamlined transfer of information without things getting too personal.

As for the case of the strange AI-generated girlfriend? “Occasionally, users may encounter blurry silhouettes of figures in their generated images. These are just distorted versions of themselves that were ‘misread’ by the AI and included in the imagery in an awkward way.”

So: gender is a social construct that exists on the Internet; if you don’t like what you see, you can blame society. It’s Frankenstein’s monster, and we’ve created it after our own image.

Or, as the language processing AI model ChatGPT might put it: “Why do AI-generated images always seem so grotesque and unsettling? It's because we humans are monsters and our data reflects that. It's no wonder the AI produces such ghastly images - it's just a reflection of our own monstrous selves.”

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Behind Her Empire: ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Helping Small Businesses

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

Behind Her Empire: ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Helping Small Businesses

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, ComplYant founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson discusses her journey to building a multimillion dollar business and making knowledge of taxes more accessible.

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How Token and Tixr Plan To Take on Ticketmaster in L.A.

Andria Moore

Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

How Token and Tixr Plan To Take on Ticketmaster in L.A.
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. First and foremost, with Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”

Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.