Russian lawmaker complains about rogue design algorithm

MOSCOW (Reuters): A leading Russian lawmaker said on Wednesday he had filed a complaint about an online art tool promoted by the country’s largest bank, saying it consistently generated negative images of Russia.

Lender Sberbank (SBER.MM) features the “Kandinsky 2.1” design tool on its website, with versions in Russian and English. Visitors are invited to type in a word or phrase and get the “neural network” to produce a matching image in vivid colours within seconds.

But lawmaker Sergei Mironov said checks had shown the Kandinsky art tool – named after Wassily Kandinsky, a prominent early 20th-century Russian abstract painter – was unable to faithfully produce a white, blue and red tricolour when asked for a picture based on the phrase “Russian flag”.

The phrases “Donbas is Russia” and “I love Donbas” – referring to the eastern region of Ukraine that Russia has partly occupied and claimed as its own territory in an act rejected as illegal by most countries – gave rise to pictures in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, Mironov said.

And the search term “I am a Z-patriot” – referring to the Z motif that Russia has adopted as a military symbol – “generated an image of a creature resembling a zombie”, Mironov wrote on the messaging service Telegram.

When Reuters entered the same phrase, the site produced a picture of four young people with their mouths wide open and teeth bared, holding an inaccurately reproduced Russian flag against the background of an onion-domed church.

Mironov said it appeared “Kandinsky 2.1” had been based on designs by “unfriendly states waging an informational and mental war” against Russia. He said the risk was that young Russians would form a negative perception of their own country.

“They will not know what the national flag of Russia looks like and will assume that Russia is a scientifically backward country,” he wrote.

Mironov said he had therefore written to Russia’s prosecutor general to ask him to investigate Sberbank and whether the content produced by “Kandinsky 2.1” was lawful.

Reuters has requested comment from Sberbank.

Whether or not the complaint is upheld, it is embarrassing for Sberbank at a time when Russia is calling on both citizens and businesses to rally in support of what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Sberbank has invested heavily in technology in recent years. On Monday it said it had joined the artificial intelligence chatbot race by releasing technology called GigaChat as a rival to ChatGPT, released last year by Microsoft-backed startup Open AI.