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New Stable Diffusion 3 release excels at AI-generated body horror

Enlarge / An AI-generated image created using Stable Diffusion 3 of a girl lying in the grass.

On Wednesday, Stability AI released weights for Stable Diffusion 3 Medium, an AI image-synthesis model that turns text prompts into AI-generated images. Its arrival has been ridiculed online, however, because it generates images of humans in a way that seems like a step backward from other state-of-the-art image-synthesis models like Midjourney or DALL-E 3. As a result, it can churn out wild anatomically incorrect visual abominations with ease.

A thread on Reddit, titled, “Is this release supposed to be a joke? [SD3-2B],” details the spectacular failures of SD3 Medium at rendering humans, especially human limbs like hands and feet. Another thread, titled, “Why is SD3 so bad at generating girls lying on the grass?” shows similar issues, but for entire human bodies.

Hands have traditionally been a challenge for AI image generators due to lack of good examples in early training data sets, but more recently, several image-synthesis models seemed to have overcome the issue. In that sense, SD3 appears to be a huge step backward for the image-synthesis enthusiasts that gather on Reddit—especially compared to recent Stability releases like SD XL Turbo in November.

“It wasn’t too long ago that StableDiffusion was competing with Midjourney, now it just looks like a joke in comparison. At least our datasets are safe and ethical!” wrote one Reddit user.

AI image fans are so far blaming the Stable Diffusion 3’s anatomy failures on Stability’s insistence on filtering out adult content (often called “NSFW” content) from the SD3 training data that teaches the model how to generate images. “Believe it or not, heavily censoring a model also gets rid of human anatomy, so… that’s what happened,” wrote one Reddit user in the thread.

Basically, any time a user prompt homes in on a concept that isn’t represented well in the AI model’s training dataset, the image-synthesis model will confabulate its best interpretation of what the user is asking for. And sometimes that can be completely terrifying.

The release of Stable Diffusion 2.0 in 2022 suffered from similar problems in depicting humans well, and AI researchers soon discovered that censoring adult content that contains nudity could severely hamper an AI model’s ability to generate accurate human anatomy. At the time, Stability AI reversed course with SD 2.1 and SD XL, regaining some abilities lost by strongly filtering NSFW content.

Another issue that can occur during model pre-training is that sometimes the NSFW filter researchers use to remove adult images from the dataset is too picky, accidentally removing images that might not be offensive and depriving the model of depictions of humans in certain situations. “[SD3] works fine as long as there are no humans in the picture, I think their improved nsfw filter for filtering training data decided anything humanoid is nsfw,” wrote one Redditor on the topic.

Using a free online demo of SD3 on Hugging Face, we ran prompts and saw similar results to those being reported by others. For example, the prompt “a man showing his hands” returned an image of a man holding up two giant-sized backward hands, although each hand at least had five fingers.

Stability’s troubles run deep

Stability announced Stable Diffusion 3 in February, and the company has planned to make it available in various model sizes. Today’s release is for the “Medium” version, which is a 2 billion-parameter model. In addition to the weights being available on Hugging Face, they are also available for experimentation through the company’s Stability Platform. The weights are available for download and use for free under a non-commercial license only.

Soon after its February announcement, delays in releasing the SD3 model weights inspired rumors that the release was being held back due to technical issues or mismanagement. Stability AI as a company fell into a tailspin recently with the resignation of its founder and CEO, Emad Mostaque, in March and then a series of layoffs. Just prior to that, three key engineers—Robin Rombach, Andreas Blattmann, and Dominik Lorenz—left the company. And its troubles go back even further, with news of the company’s dire financial position lingering since 2023.

To some Stable Diffusion fans, the failures with Stable Diffusion 3 Medium are a visual manifestation of the company’s mismanagement—and an obvious sign of things falling apart. Although the company has not filed for bankruptcy, some users made dark jokes about the possibility after seeing SD3 Medium:

“I guess now they can go bankrupt in a safe and ethically [sic] way, after all.”

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