AI Initiative Generates Probable Adult Portraits of Children Abducted During Argentina’s Military Regime

by Andrew Wright
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Artificial Intelligence in Tracing Missing Children

What might a child, separated from their parents four decades ago during the era of Argentina’s military regime, look like in the present day?

Santiago Barros, an Argentine advertising specialist, has employed artificial intelligence to envisage the adult faces of such children, offspring of parents who vanished under the dictatorship.

Barros routinely posts these computer-generated images on an Instagram account named iabuelas. This term is a Spanish blend of ‘IA’ for artificial intelligence and ‘abuela’ for grandmother, inspired by the prominent activist group, Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, dedicated to locating lost children.

“In most instances, we possess photographs of the disappeared adults, yet their stolen children remain faceless in the public eye,” Barros said in an interview with The Big Big News.

From 1976 to 1983, Argentina was under a brutal dictatorship that executed a program of forcible removal of infants from political opponents who were often detained, executed, and vanished without a trace. These children were typically brought up by families sympathetic to, or associated with, the dictatorship.

To generate these images, Barros uses an application named Midjourney to amalgamate photographs of the missing parents, accessible through the public archives of the Grandmothers’ website. The app produces two male and two female facial renderings for each pair, from which Barros selects the most realistic images.

While Barros clarifies that his initiative does not aim to supplant the DNA-testing methods employed by the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, he hopes it will provoke introspection among those older than 46 who might question their origins. It also serves to underscore the Grandmothers’ four-decade-long quest to find these missing children.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo estimate that approximately 500 children were illicitly taken from their parents. To date, they have successfully identified 133 through genetic testing. The organization commends Barros’ initiative for amplifying awareness about the missing children but maintains that only DNA testing, facilitated by the National Genetic Data Bank they advocated for in 1987, can conclusively reconnect these individuals with their biological families.

Besides using the Grandmothers’ public archives, Barros also incorporates photographic materials contributed by concerned individuals. Some who have viewed the iabuelas Instagram account have observed that the generated images tend to standardize features, thus casting doubt on their authenticity. However, in some instances, families searching for lost members have been struck by the uncanny resemblance between the generated images and their relatives.

One such case involved Matías Ayastuy, who approached Barros with pictures of his missing parents. His mother, Marta Bugnone, was abducted in 1977 while pregnant. Using AI algorithms to blend parental images, the program yielded surprisingly realistic potential siblings.

“While many observe the male generated image as bearing resemblance to me, the female rendering stunned me with its similarity to my cousin,” Ayastuy revealed.

As of yet, no individual has formally initiated an identification process after recognizing themselves in one of Barros’ AI-generated images.

All posted images come with a disclaimer, indicating that iabuelas is an “unofficial artistic endeavor” and stressing that artificial intelligence outcomes might lack precision.

Pedro Sandoval, whose identity was established in 2006, initially supported the project but later expressed concerns that it may overly rely on standardized European features. Barros acknowledges the limitation, pointing out that a significant number of the missing individuals had European ancestry, in a nation heavily influenced by European migration.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo caution that while the AI project is interesting, it should not give rise to false hopes. “The generated images are simulations based on the genetics of both parents, but it’s important to recognize that people are more complex than the sum of their parents’ genes. Foreign AI applications may also introduce biases based on their own population’s genotypes,” the group declared in a late July statement.

Contributions to this report were made by Victor Caivano, a videojournalist with The Big Big News.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Artificial Intelligence in Tracing Missing Children

What is the primary goal of Santiago Barros’ AI initiative?

The primary goal of Santiago Barros’ artificial intelligence project is to generate probable adult faces of children who were abducted during Argentina’s military dictatorship. The initiative aims to raise public awareness, prompt introspection among people who may question their origins, and serve as a tribute to the efforts of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, who have been searching for these missing children for over four decades.

Who are the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo?

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo is an activist group in Argentina that has been dedicated to finding children who were taken from their families during the country’s military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. They use various methods, including DNA testing, to identify these missing individuals.

What technology is being used in the project?

The technology used in this initiative is artificial intelligence, specifically an application called Midjourney. This application combines photos of the missing parents, sourced from public archives, to generate possible adult faces of their abducted children.

How reliable are the AI-generated images?

While the AI-generated images are compelling, they are not conclusive evidence of identity. The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo advocate for DNA testing as the only infallible tool for identification. The AI outcomes are mentioned as potentially lacking precision and should be viewed as an “unofficial artistic endeavor.”

Has anyone been identified through this AI project?

As of the time the article was written, there have been no known cases of an individual initiating a formal identification process after recognizing themselves in one of the AI-generated images on the iabuelas Instagram account.

Are there any criticisms of this AI initiative?

Yes, some criticisms focus on the standardization of features in the AI-generated images, which may not be wholly accurate or may lean towards European features. Pedro Sandoval, who was identified in 2006, initially supported the project but later expressed concerns about this standardization.

What is the official stance of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo on this initiative?

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo appreciate the project for its role in raising awareness but caution that it should not replace DNA testing. They emphasize that the AI-generated images should be taken with a grain of salt and not give rise to false hopes.

What platforms are used to display these AI-generated images?

The AI-generated images are primarily displayed on an Instagram account named iabuelas. The account is managed by Santiago Barros, the individual behind this initiative.

How does the project affect families searching for lost relatives?

Some families have been struck by the resemblance between the AI-generated images and their blood relatives. While the initiative has provoked emotional responses, it has not yet led to any formal identification procedures.

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