In June 2023, a newly-created Instagram account attracted attention in a short period of time. The content of the account mainly consisted of the blogger using some photos of the parents to synthesise the child’s current face. As the blogger kept updating it, the number of followers increased day by day. Why is he doing this? And why are people


Why should they follow these strangers’ photos?

The blogger’s name is Santiago Barros, a publicist in Argentina. The name of Barros’ Instagram page is “iabuelas,” with “ia” standing for artificial intelligence and “abuela” meaning “grandmother” in Spanish. Grandmothers - a tribute to the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The roots go back to the 1970s and 1980s, when a large number of children were kidnapped and disappeared during the military dictatorship in Argentina because their parents opposed the regime. In order to recover these children, the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo formed protest groups to demand the reappearance of their children, however it was to no avail. To this day, they have never stopped searching for their children.

Now, Barros hopes to help reunite these families, but he realises - most of the missing children do not have visual records, and even if they do, decades have passed and the children’s faces have long since changed.


“We were able to find photos of the parents of most of the missing people, but we have no photos of the children, of the children who were stolen.” Barrows told the Associated Press, “It’s shocking to me that these people don’t have ‘faces’.”

Can artificial intelligence help find missing children?

Barros obtained photos of the parents of the missing children from the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo incident and then used them as a reference for the AI image generator Midjourney to create an image of the child as an adult. If the gender of the child is not known, Barros creates two female images and two male images each, and then picks the one that looks the most realistic.


There are many people who are biased against AI image generators like Midjourney, criticising the photos of faces generated by Barros as biased and not accurate content. But some families searching for lost loved ones say they do see similarities in the AI-generated faces.

Matias Ayastui, whose mother was kidnapped while pregnant in 1977, provided Barros with photos of his missing parents to see what a brother or sister his mother was carrying might look like - and was impressed by the results.” Many people might think that the generated male image resembles me more, but the truth is that the female image resonated very strongly with me, and the generated photo of the girl is very close to my cousin,” Ayastuyi said.


In each of his articles, Barros makes it clear that iabuelas is an “unofficial art project” and that the results are bound to have inaccuracies. “The organisation Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo also warned people to be cautious about the project, writing in a statement that “this is just a simulation showing the possible faces of the children of the disappeared, and we know that people resemble their parents by much more than 50 per cent, but foreign apps are set up according to the genotypes of their populations, and the resulting images are not realistic.”

Overall, while the method used by Barrows is not 100 per cent accurate, and it would be very difficult to rely on the photos generated to find the actual missing children, they can be used as clues to steer the investigation in a direction that can help restart the search for lost loved ones. And the images have already struck a chord with some families, who believe that they can still see some resemblance to their missing loved ones in the faked faces, which offers them hope and solace.


The human side of AI

As with the iabuelas project in the previous article, technology continues to evolve so that AI is gradually permeating all aspects of our lives, and its applications have moved beyond the purely technical to the humanities, providing solutions to some deeply significant social problems.Similarly, India’s Project Reunite uses AI technology to match the childhood photos of missing children with those of their family members, providing new clues in the search for them.Image source “Project Reunite” official website

In China, AI image restoration technology is also widely used in family tracing. The Huazhong University of Science and Technology initiated the establishment of a “AI Baby: Let’s find relatives no longer alone” team, which has developed the “AI Baby: Image for Family Search” in response to the core problem of “lack of clarity of the human face”. They developed the “AI Baby: Image High Resolution System for Family Search”, which accurately repaired a large number of blurred photos of children. In the case of Sun Ocean’s family search, the team used the self-developed family search system to help repair the clues for arresting the trafficker, Sun Zhuo’s childhood photos, and his father Sun Ocean’s youthful photos, assisting the police in successfully arresting the trafficker and finding Sun Zhuo.

The efficiency of the technology-enabled family tracing team has been greatly improved, and the team has now restored the photos of more than 1,000 missing children, allowing nine families to be reunited.

Missing loved ones can be recovered, but what about those who are already gone?

On 19 March this year, B-station UP master “Wu Wu Liu” uploaded a video in memory of his deceased grandmother. In the video, Wu Wu Liu used AI technology to “resurrect” the deceased old man in the form of a virtual digital life, trying to make up for the regret that he did not see his grandmother one last time. This reminds us of the popular sci-fi film “Wandering Earth 2”. The protagonist of the film, Tu Hengyu, who supports the Digital Life Project, spends his whole life trying to upload his deceased daughter’s memories into the virtual world, so that she can have a “complete life”. The plot of the film stirs us to explore and think about life, and also shows us the humanistic care behind the cold technology.


“AI’s companionship is also companionship”, under the video, countless viewers told their own stories, eager to use AI to seal the beauty of the past.

In addition to close family members, people are also trying to use AI voice to bring back to life the idols that have passed in their youthful memories.

AI can’t bring people back from the dead, but it does give people a way to commemorate and resolve their grief, so that they can feel the warmth of AI as a tool.

Secondly, these projects have also triggered people to think about AI ethics and privacy issues. Whether it’s the AI chatbots “Woebot” and “Replika”, which aim to provide emotional support and relieve loneliness, or “iabuelas” and “iabuelas”, which are dedicated to finding lost children and reuniting families, these projects have also raised questions about the ethics of AI and privacy. iabuelas” and “Project Reunite”, the current artificial intelligence in the face of such complex humanistic care, there are still many technical limitations and we can not ignore the ethical and moral issues.

All in all, AI’s humanistic care is an evolving field that provides new ideas and tools for solving social problems. In the future, we can expect to see more applications of the technology to help improve different issues in our society, while at the same time there is a need to constantly review and address issues related to ethics and privacy to ensure that the development of the technology can truly benefit humanity.