This Horse-Riding Astronaut is a Milestone in AI’s Journey to Make Sense of the World


OpenAI’s latest picture-making AI is amazing—but raises questions about what we mean by intelligence.

Image-generation models like DALL-E have come a long way in just a few years. In 2020, AI2 showed off a neural network that could generate images from prompts such as “Three people play video games on a couch.” The results were distorted and blurry, but just about recognizable. Last year, Chinese tech giant Baidu improved on the original DALL-E’s image quality with a model called ERNIE-ViLG.

DALL-E 2 takes the approach even further. Its creations can be stunning: ask it to generate images of astronauts on horses, teddy-bear scientists, or sea otters in the style of Vermeer, and it does so with near photorealism. The examples that OpenAI has made available (see below), as well as those I saw in a demo the company gave me last week, will have been cherry-picked. Even so, the quality is often remarkable.

“One way you can think about this neural network is transcendent beauty as a service,” says Ilya Sutskever, cofounder and chief scientist at OpenAI. “Every now and then it generates something that just makes me gasp.”

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