ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 138

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Fake image of Pentagon blast, suspected to be AI-created, briefly goes viral

Stock markets fleetingly drop as photo showing smoke billowing from US military headquarters spreads; authorities scramble to stress there was no explosion

The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington, March 2, 2022. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
The Pentagon is seen from Air Force One as it flies over Washington, March 2, 2022. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

WASHINGTON, United States — A fake image of an explosion at the Pentagon briefly went viral and caused a ten-minute dip on the markets on Monday, stoking further talk that generative artificial intelligence could cause problems to society.

The image, which many observers suspected came from artificial intelligence, was spread by several accounts, forcing the Pentagon to comment that there was no such explosion.

“We can confirm this was a false report and the Pentagon was not attacked today,” a spokesman said.

The Arlington, Virginia, fire department also reacted, posting on social media that there was no explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon.

“@PFPAOfficial and the ACFD are aware of a social media report circulating online about an explosion near the Pentagon,” the agency wrote, using the acronym for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, which polices the Pentagon. “There is NO explosion or incident taking place at or near the Pentagon reservation, and there is no immediate danger or hazards to the public.”

Misinformation experts say the fake image was likely created using generative artificial intelligence programs, which have allowed increasingly realistic, but oftentimes flawed, visuals to flood the internet recently.

Inconsistencies in the building, fence and surrounding area are imperfections typically found in AI-generated images, noted Hany Farid, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in digital forensics, misinformation and image analysis.

“Specifically, the grass and concrete fade into each other, the fence is irregular, there is a strange black pole that is protruding out of the front of the sidewalk but is also part of the fence,” he wrote in an email to the Associated Press. “The windows in the building are inconsistent with photos of the Pentagon that you can find online.”

The incident followed other occurrences of fake imagery that also created buzz recently on the internet, including of former US president Donald Trump getting arrested and Pope Francis in a puffer jacket.

The earliest tweet found by AFP sharing the Pentagon image came from a QAnon-promoting account that has previously shared disinformation, though the original source of the image was not known.

Emerging generative AI technologies make it easier for non-specialists to create convincing images in just a few moments, instead of needing the expertise to use programs such as Photoshop.

The shared image caused the markets to be knocked for a few minutes, with the S&P 500 stumbling by 0.29 percent compared to its Friday close before recovering.

“There was a dip likely related to this fake news as the (trading) machines picked up on it, but I would submit that the scope of the decline did not match the seemingly bad nature of the fake news,” said Pat O’Hare of Briefing.com.

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