Generative AI Apps Still Have to Get A Lot Better Before They Start Swaying Elections

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Generative AI Apps Still Have to Get A Lot Better Before They Start Swaying Elections
Evan Xie

With rumors swirling this week about the potential (now delayed) arrest of former president Donald Trump, social media responded as it tends to do with any major news story: by memeing the heck out of it. In this case, imaginative online pranksters took to generative AI art apps like Midjourney and Stable Diffusion to create fake images of Trump being placed under arrest and taken to prison. One narrative thread of AI imagery – depicting Trump’s journey from arrest to prison to escape and ultimately seeking sanctuary in McDonald’s was apparently enough to get British journalist Eliot Higgings temporarily banned from the Midjourney app entirely.

Naturally, this led to another round of deep concern from the press about the potential future implications of AI art and other kinds of “deepfake” technology. Soon, these editorials warn, we may be completely incapable of distinguishing fact from fiction or trusting even evidence we can see and hear. With new AI apps and concepts flooding the internet every day, we’re now repeating this news cycle every few weeks. It was only late February when everyone was concerned about those vocal deepfakes, following the spread of clips in which Joe Biden was trapped in the “Skinamarink” house, or recalled the events of the 2011 film “We Bought a Zoo.”

Certainly, no one could deny the power a single potent image can have on public perception. How many times have social media users shared that memorable photograph of the Clintons and Trumps at a party together chatting it up, or Elon Musk posing next to convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell, or those Charlotesville protesters with the tiki torches. The whole concept of photojournalism is built around the concept that a carefully-captured image can tell a story just as effectively as a 500-word article.

But is AI Art actually believable?

It’s nonetheless worth pointing out in light of the viral success of Higgings’ and others’ “Trump Arrest” AI art threads that we’re not yet in a world in which apps like Midjourney could potentially sway elections. Consumer-facing AI products can certainly produce compelling images based only on simple prompts, but once you get out of the realm of relatively simple portraits and straight-forward concepts, the results become exponentially less photorealistic. Even in Higgins’ own thread, static shots of Trump in a prison cell alone reading a book or slouching against a fence look way more compelling than action shots of him shooting hoops with other inmates or fleeing authorities to a fast food joint under cover of night. (Though the Golden Arches come through perfectly, even the McDonald’s name doesn’t translate into AI; Midjourney reproduces their logo as reading “Minonad.”)

AI art apps famously struggle to reproduce the more nuanced and complicated bits of human anatomy like faces and hands (though there have been recent signs of improvement here). Some shapes and textures, like liquids, also remain problematic for the apps, though again there are some signs of hope on the horizon.

All the “sky is falling” editorials about how one day soon, you won’t be able to tell if a photo is real or AI prompt-based, begin with the core assumption that these proposed solutions will work out, and generative AI art apps will essentially become perfect very soon. And look, there is no direct evidence that this is wrong, and the fact that these apps exist in the first place is impressive.

But is it a guarantee that Midjourney will definitely get a lot better at photorealism in the near future, such that we have to be actively concerned when we see a photo of President Trump about whether or not we can believe our eyes? Is this the kind of thing we can “teach” software just by showing it thousands of individual labeled photographs and telling it “this is what reality looks like”? Does anyone even know?

The Pixar Problem

I’m reminded of a San Diego Comic-Con panel I attended in 2008. (Bear with me! I swear this is gonna link up.) Pixar did a presentation in Hall H that year previewing their latest film, “Up,” and the conversation included some insights into some of the more complicated animation challenges the studio had encountered to date. “Up” director Pete Docter was a veteran of one of the studios’ first and most-beloved films, “Monsters Inc.,” and he said that one of the chief obstacles to animating that film was the character of Sully, who’s covered in thick blue fur. When Pixar began work on “Monsters Inc,” their computer animation software didn’t yet know how to reproduce realistic tufts of hair.

This makes sense when you think about the way hair behaves in the real world. There’s uniform direction; all of Sully’s fur follows him around wherever he goes, and is impacted by his momentum, the wind, other characters and objects moving around, and so forth. But “fur” is not a single uniform object; it’s actually made up of thousands upon thousands of individual strands of hair, which don’t all behave in exactly the same way all the time.

Computers aren’t naturally that good at reproducing this kind of randomized group movement; it took Pixar animators years of diligent work and a whole lot of computer processing power to sort it out. Other complex substances and surfaces like water have also buguiled animators for years. Disney animators working on “Moana” specifically had to address the challenges posed by a movie in which the ocean was both a setting and a supporting character with new techniques and technologies. It’s the same situation with large crowds; they move as a unit, yes, but they’re actually made up of individual people, who also move around on their own. That’s tough for a computer to animate without very specific instructions.

Which (finally!) brings me back to Midjourney and AI art apps. The assumption that the computer will “figure out” all of these challenges on its own, just by being trained and retrained on more and more images, strikes me as a pretty significant one. We tend to view the advancement of technology as purely linear, a straight line from where we are now to “the future.” But in fact, a lot of innovations develop in starts and stops. An intractable problem presents itself, and it can take a relatively long time to sort out, if in fact it ever gets resolved. (It’s been more than a decade since we were first promised self-driving cars and truly immersive virtual reality were just a few years out, after all.)

Perhaps Midjourney will have an easier time with fur and juice and Times Square on New Years Eve than Pixar and Disney’s software had, and won’t require as much patient and careful direction and processing power to sort all of this out. But I’ve yet to see any evidence that it’s a guaranteed sure thing either.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

RELATEDEDITOR'S PICKS
LA TECH JOBS
interchangeLA
Trending