A rendering of a proposed city planned in Solano County, shows a girl riding bike while missing a foot. It’s likely because of the use of artificial intelligence.

Provided by California Forever

A girl pedaling a bicycle with a missing foot. An asymmetrical airplane. An impossible ladder.

If those renderings of a utopian, sun-kissed dream city-to-be in the farmlands of eastern Solano County last week seemed a step outside reality, it’s because they are.

In fact, they’re, apparently, not traditional renderings at all.

That’s because according to one company, Hive, that ran the images through software that detects when an image has been created with generative AI — a program that can create images, videos, and written responses from written prompts — that’s exactly what happened here.

Brian Brokaw, spokesman for California Forever, the parent company of Flannery Associates, a consortium of California tech billionaires, confirmed in a text message that AI had been used to create the images.

"To be more specific — the renderings were designed by human illustrators using modern design tools, including AI," Brokaw said.

A rendering of a scene in a proposed city planned in Solano County depicts a worker on an unreal ladder.

Provided by California Forever

Typically, architectural renderings use computerized tools like Photoshop and a host of other tools to convey a gauzy, anonymous reality the viewer can easily project themselves into. Using AI is just one step further, in some ways, of realistically relaying an oh-so-close future.

The revelation isn’t exactly a scandal given the increasing ubiquity of AI-generated material online, in classrooms and virtually everywhere else. The renderings, instead, underline how this technology will increasingly pop up in everyday life, whether we realize it’s there or not.

It’s also not so surprising to see AI technology used here given that Flannery Associates, the group that has spent more than $800 million buying 140 properties in Solano County over the past five years, is comprised of tech elites. Those include Laurene Powell Jobs, owner of the Atlantic and widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and Andreessen Horowitz, a Menlo Park venture capital firm, along with a list of other prominent Silicon Valley figures, the New York Times first reported.

In an email, Cynthia Rudin, a Duke University computer scientist, pointed out numerous irregularities in the renderings, including the seemingly missing foot of a girl on a bicycle, the asymmetrical underbelly of a military plane, faces that seemed to point both directions and more.

"There are mistakes here that human artists don’t usually make," Rudin, who works across AI disciplines including the technology’s implications for data privacy and facial recognition software, said.

A rendering of a scene near a proposed city planned in Solano County shows a plan in flight that some have called "asymmetrical."

Provided by California Forever

Hive CEO Kevin Guo ran the renderings through his model and said in an email "it seems the vast majority of them were indeed AI generated, specifically by Midjourney," a generative AI program whose photo-realistic prompt generated images helped set off the current AI boom.

Brokaw, the California Forever spokesman, did not say whether Midjourney had been used to create the depictions.

Midjourney’s software gained huge attention when it generated photos of Pope Francis in a somewhat gaudy winter coat that many took to be generated from, well, the real world.

Hive’s detection software, along with others that do the same thing, is not always totally accurate and can be fooled into thinking real photos are made with AI, and the other way around.

Reach Chase DiFeliciantonio: [email protected]; Twitter: @ChaseDiFelice

Chase DiFeliciantonio is a reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle on the Transformation team, where he covers tech culture, workplace safety and labor issues in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and beyond. Prior to joining The Chronicle, he covered immigration for the Daily Journal, a legal affairs newspaper, and a variety of beats at the North Bay Business Journal in Santa Rosa. Chase has degrees in journalism and history from Loyola University Chicago.

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