Here’s how to use Lensa, the chart-topping app that uses AI to transform your selfies into digital avatars

Technology

Lensa AI image.
Sofia Pitt

You may have noticed a new trend taking over your Instagram feed. Your friends are turning themselves into digital art with the help of an artificial intelligence-generated app called Lensa.

Lensa AI is currently the top free app in Apple App Store, though you’ll have to pay to use the AI artwork feature.

Lensa first launched as a photo editing tool in 2018, but last month the company released a new feature called “Magic Avatars.” These AI-generated digital self-portraits turn you into works of art in a variety of themes, from pop, to fairy princesses, to anime.

Lensa avatar of Sofia Pitt in iridescent.
Sofia Pitt

You get a 7-day free trial. Subscription fees vary after that, with yearly unlimited access ranging from $14.99 to $49.99. To use the “Magic Avatar” tool, you’ll pay an additional $3.99 for 50 images.

Here’s how to try it for yourself.

How to create digital art with Lensa

There has been a boom in generative AI in recent months with releases like ChatGPT and Dall-E. ChatGPT, which also recently went viral, is an AI chatbot that has a lot of promise. You can ask it to write poems and stories or use it to answer questions. Dall-E, which is created by OpenAI, the same organization as ChatGPT, is an AI-powered text-to-image generator. You type in some words and it creates an image.

Lensa operates using the open-source image generator called Stable Diffusion. Here’s how to get started.

  • Download Lensa AI for iPhone or Android.
  • Open the app.
  • Click the ‘Photos’ tab.
  • You’ll see a yellow button that says ‘Magic Avatars.’
  • It’ll warn you that there may be inaccuracies in images, like defects and artifacts, so you have to acknowledge those terms before you continue. Some of these inaccuracies include creating images with multiple heads or limbs. This didn’t happen to me, although I did see some pictures that generated two different eye colors.
Lensa’s “What to Expect” page.
Sofia Pitt
  • After you click “continue,” you’ll be asked to upload 10 to 20 selfies. The app recommends using close-ups, pictures of adults, a variety of backgrounds and facial expressions. It advises users to avoid group shots, kid pictures, covered faces and nude pictures.
  • The app says “Photos will be immediately deleted from our servers after the Avatars are ready.”
  • After selecting 10-20 selfies, you’ll be asked to select your gender.
  • It’s time to pay. If you’re a subscriber, prices are 51% off, so 50 avatars cost $3.99, 100 pictures cost $5.99 and 200 images cost $7.99.
  • After 20 minutes or so you’ll be notified that your avatars are ready for viewing and saving. You’ll receive avatars in a variety of different styles like Fantasy, Fairy Princess, Focus, Pop, Stylish, Anime, Light, Kawaii, Iridescent and Cosmic.

Here are some of my results:

Fairy Princess Avatar Lensa.
Sofia Pitt

Lensa stirs privacy and copyright concerns

Artists have accused the company behind the app of stealing artwork from digital creators. Jon Lam, a storyboard artist at Riot Games, explained to NBC News that AI models are trained using other people’s artwork. Worse, Lauryn Ipsum, a graphic designer noted in a Tweet on Dec. 5 that artists’ signatures are still visible, albeit scrambled, on some images. I noticed this, too.

In a Twitter thread on Dec. 6, Prisma Labs tried to address some of those concerns. “The AI learns to recognize the connections between the images and their descriptions, not the artworks,” it said. “This way the model develops operational principles that can be applied to content generation. Hence the outputs can’t be described as exact replicas of any particular artwork.”

Lensa generated avatar appears to show artist’s signature.
Sofia Pitt

Some privacy experts are concerned the Lensa app could keep the photos you upload, even though it says it doesn’t.

“As soon as the avatars are generated, the user’s photos and the associated model are erased permanently from our servers, the company said on Twitter. “And the process would start over again for the next request.”

But any app that collects data from a phone could lift other private data. In Pisma Labs’ terms of service, the company says it doesn’t “require or request any metadata attached to the photos you upload, metadata (including, for example, geotags) may be associated with your photos by default.” Meaning it’s unclear whether or not you’re sharing location or personal data with the app, even if you’re doing so unintentionally.

Prisma Labs, the owner of Lensa did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the privacy and copyright concerns.

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