No one knows how to generate headlines and outrage like a pro-Russia propagandist.
Which might explain how Ashot Gabrelyanov has come to promote his artificial intelligence startup.
Gabrelyanov, who lives in Brooklyn, bills himself as the founder of MakeApp, a new app which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to show how women really look without makeup.
You take a selfie or upload a picture of someone else, and the free version of the app gives you two options to add makeup or remove makeup. You pick one, and the filter does the rest.
It’s a controversial idea by itself, given that AI tends to be fairly unflattering to anyone with a darker skin tone, and that using AI to judge female beauty is a pretty questionable goal.
But Gabrelyanov, a Russian native, is no stranger to controversy. He is also behind pro-Russia news outlet called LifeNews, which was described by the independent Moscow Times as showing “obsequious loyalty to the Kremlin.” The outlet is popular in Russia for its celebrity scoops — but is also banned in Ukraine for airing “war propaganda.”
Business Insider tested out MakeApp on light- and dark-skinned women to see how accurate it is. We quickly found the app is taking its cue from FaceApp, another controversial Russian photo app whose “hotness” filter made dark skin look lighter.
Here’s what MakeApp thinks I look like without makeup
It’s pretty obvious from this photo that MakeApp’s AI is not particularly sophisticated, giving me vitiliginous skin and paring off my eyelashes when I’m not wearing mascara.
My fairer-skinned colleague Bobbie didn’t look much better.
And neither did Business Insider’s video producer Claudia, after being subjected to a puffy make-under.
Finally, here’s a picture of tennis champion Serena Williams, who is conventionally seen in public not wearing makeup — and she definitely doesn’t look like this.
MakeApp’s unflattering, malfunctioning AI is just the latest in a long line of similar controversies: Snapchat’s offensive Bob Marley filter, FaceApp’s “black” filters, and smartphone cameras that lighten your skin by default.
Gabrelyanov has not responded to questions from Business Insider about the accuracy of MakeApp’s AI filters.