How to Spot AI-generated Content: Is It Fact or Fiction?

March 18, 2024

The emergence of more content generated by artificial intelligence in the last three years has ushered in a fascinating new aspect to the Information Age. It is becoming increasingly common for text, images, video, audio, and other multimedia to be at least partially created using AI tools. However, this promise of efficiency and comprehensive access to information and creative outputs brings with it significant technical, social, and ethical concerns. The rise of AI’s use has been matched by the rise in AI’s misuse to deceive, manipulate, and extort, creating the potential for significant economic and political implications.  

As AI-generation models become increasingly sophisticated, it’s becoming more difficult to separate AI-generated content from human-generated content. However, there are some indicators – both overt and subtle – that can help you identify when you might be dealing with AI. 

Spotting AI-generated Text 

The rise of large language models has made AI-generated writing popular in a variety of forms, and its increasing complexity is making it harder to tell apart from human writing. However, there are still signs you can look for to help you spot AI-generated text. 

  • Inconsistencies and repetition: Occasionally, AI produces nonsensical or odd sentences which can be a clear indicator of AI-generated text. Abrupt shifts in tone, style, or topic can point to AI that is struggling to maintain coherent ideas. Whereas humans often vary structure to create a better flow, repeated phrases or sentence structures can point to AI relying more on memorized patterns. Occasionally, AI produces nonsensical or odd sentences which can be a clear indicator of AI-generated text. 

  • Context and content: If the text seems to be unable to grasp the larger context of the writing, is missing the point entirely, or references specific details without appropriate context, it could be AI because these models lack real-world understanding and nuance. Uniqueness and personalization are hallmarks of human writing, so if the text feels basic and formulaic it might be AI-generated. And obviously, if there are blatant falsehoods or unverifiable facts, it’s either an unreliable source or AI. 

  • Buzzwords and grammar: Excessive use of buzzwords and jargon can be a sign of AI filling the gaps of its knowledge with generic vocabulary. This is particularly common in marketing text and instances where the larger context is more complex. And watch for perfect grammar, as even the best writers may make mistakes or intentionally break grammatical rules to emphasize an idea. 

  • Quick responses: As people often take time to think and respond, rapid replies could be a sign of AI. This is common in customer service platforms like chatbots. 

  • Placeholder text: Some AI text generation models use placeholders like "Insert name here" if it lacks sufficient information to fill in the gaps itself. The appearance of these placeholders in text used outside the model can be an indicator of automated content.  

  • Lack of citations: Platforms like ChatGPT can insert citations but they have been found to be unreliable, incorrectly linked, and improperly formatted. Bodies of text with these types of citations may indicate AI was used. 

Spotting AI-generated Images 

The lines between real and AI-generated visuals can blur, but thoughtful observation can help you tell them apart. Here are a few ways you may be able to spot AI-generated images. 

  • Details and inconsistencies: AI struggles with details, especially in hands, faces, and textures. Look for inconsistencies like extra fingers or too many teeth, unnatural blending of skin tones, and overly smooth textures, which can be signs of AI generation. Similarly, images created with AI often exhibit visual biases and use stereotypes when depicting people. 

  • Distortions: Look for unusual details within the image itself, particularly in the image’s less prominent features. AI-generated images often exhibit subtle distortions or anomalies, such as mismatched earrings, warped backgrounds, and nonsensical text. Watch for unusual or unexpected patterns, unrealistic lighting, or strange items within the image. 

  • Reverse image search: Conduct a reverse image search to trace the image's origin. If it circulates widely on social media but doesn’t appear on reputable sites, view it with caution as AI-generated images can spread quickly without proper verification. AI-generated images can create convincing narratives, so it’s critical to verify the authenticity of the event depicted in the image through credible sources. 

  • Check metadata: If possible, access the image's metadata or source information. Look for mentions of AI tools or stock photo services specializing in AI generation. 

Spotting AI-generated Videos 

The world of online video is constantly evolving and becoming more realistic, and with it comes the challenge of discerning real footage from fake. Notably, deepfakes raise some of the most pressing AI-generated content issues. Here are some key strategies to help you identify AI-generated videos. 

  • Unnatural movements and expressions: While AI can mimic broader human movements, it often struggles to capture the subtleties of how our bodies behave and interact. Jerky movements, stiffness, or facial expressions that seem off, like inconsistencies in blinking or emotional transitions, can all be indicators of AI-generated videos. 

  • Lighting, shadows, and colors: AI-generated videos often show inconsistencies in lighting, particularly with unnatural shadows, flickering lights, or strange textures. Watch for unrealistic objects appearing and disappearing, morphing unexpectedly, or taking unusual forms. 

  • Mismatched audio and video: While previously just an annoyance, videos where the sound doesn't match the lip movements or actions on screen can be a sign of AI. 

  • Background noise: If the background noise doesn’t sound like it belongs in the scene – such as sounds from nature being played over a busy city scene – it’s a strong indicator that the video was generated by AI. 

  • Fact check: If a video lacks context, information about its source, or an easy way to verify its authenticity, be cautious that the video is potentially AI-generated. If the video makes specific claims, especially concerning real-world events or individuals, try to verify the information through credible sources like news outlets or official websites. Even if the video is authentic, it’s a good action to take. 

Trusting Your Instinct 

Combining these methods with automated AI content detector tools can further enhance your ability to navigate the digital landscape with greater awareness and security, though these tools should still be used with caution and corroborated against other sources. While these tips and tools can reveal some key indicators of AI-generated content, your best source may be your instinct. It can be hard to define, but our intuition and first reactions to whether content was created by a human or AI is often correct. 

An Education in AI Studies 

Capitol Technology University’s programs in Computer Science, Artificial Intelligence, and Data Science can help you enhance your understanding of AI-generated content, putting you at the forefront of managing this field and thwarting the misuse of AI. For more information, contact our Admissions team