Google’s Bid to Detect AI-Generated Images: Introducing SynthID

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) plays an increasingly significant role in creating content, distinguishing between genuine and AI-generated images has become crucial. Amidst rising concerns about deepfakes and their potential to spread disinformation, Google’s AI arm, DeepMind, unveils SynthID—a tool designed to detect AI-created images.

How SynthID Works

  • Invisible Watermarking: Traditional watermarks, which often display logos or text indicating ownership, can be easily cropped or edited out, making them ineffective for identifying AI-generated content. SynthID addresses this issue by embedding subtle changes to individual pixels, making the watermarks invisible to human eyes but recognizable by computer systems.
  • Resilient Design: Pushmeet Kohli, DeepMind’s head of research, explained that the system subtly modifies images without changing their appearance to human viewers. Even if the image undergoes alterations like cropping, resizing, or color changes, DeepMind’s software can still detect the watermark.
  • Wider Application: SynthID’s initial rollout is specifically for Google’s image generator, Imagen. However, as the system undergoes more real-world testing, it could potentially become a broader internet-wide standard, applicable to other forms of media such as videos and text.

BBC Bitesize’s AI or Real quiz highlights the complexities in distinguishing between real and artificially generated images. With AI image generators like Midjourney boasting over 14.5 million users, there’s a pressing need for systems like SynthID.

Global Tech’s Stance on AI Watermarking

In July, several AI frontrunners, including Google, pledged to incorporate watermarks into some of their AI-generated content. This move aims to increase transparency and ensure the safe development and use of AI:

  • China’s Approach: Earlier this year, China prohibited the release of AI-generated images lacking watermarks. Consequently, firms such as Alibaba started applying watermarks to creations made using its text-to-image tools.
  • Meta’s Response: Beyond images, Meta is exploring watermarks for videos. The tech giant has recently conducted research on its unreleased video generator, Make-A-Video, suggesting the addition of watermarks for transparency purposes.
  • Call for Standardization: Claire Leibowicz from the Partnership on AI suggests the need for a unified approach among businesses. As different organizations experiment with varying methods, establishing standard protocols can simplify the AI-generated content verification process.

DeepMind’s Perspective and Future Plans

DeepMind CEO, Demis Hassabis, emphasizes the importance of developing systems to identify AI imagery, especially with the upcoming contentious 2024 election seasons in the US and UK. SynthID, while robust, is still an “experimental launch,” and Hassabis views it as an early attempt—certainly not the definitive solution to the deepfake problem.

Wider Implications and Use Cases

While deepfakes are a primary concern, the applications of AI detection systems extend to more routine needs. Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s CEO, cited examples where businesses use AI tools to design images for advertisements or product descriptions. Verifying the origin of such images becomes imperative to ensure consistency and authenticity in marketing campaigns.


The advent of tools like SynthID underscores the tech industry’s awareness of and response to the challenges posed by AI-generated content. With collaborative efforts and an emphasis on transparency, the digital realm can be better equipped to handle the evolving landscape of AI imagery. As AI tools advance, so must the mechanisms to discern their creations, ensuring a balanced and trustworthy digital ecosystem.

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