Opinion: The cat is among the pigeons when it comes to AI

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Last month, French photo magazine Reponses Photo published a portrait on its front cover – no big deal you might be thinking.

The image, which the mag described as a “photo of an old sailor at night in front of his boat taken on an analog medium format camera,” seemed a captivating portrait, but little else – the kind of thing we’ve all seen on magazine covers for decades.

However this was no ordinary portrait of a fisherman on a wharf. Its title was actually the text prompt that was used to create it in image synthesiser Midjourney.

Image: Reponses Photo
Image: Reponses Photo

Reponses Photo published the shot, an artificial creation, as an experiment of sorts – would people even notice that the image was not a photo at all, and perhaps more importantly, did they realise just how far AI technology has come in the last few months?

The answer to that question is the technology has come very far, and in a very short space of time indeed. And on the first point, while you can nit-pick on the details of the image and what ‘gives it away’ as not being authentic, for the most part, and for most viewers, an image like this is all but the real deal.

For photographers, we’re at the dawn of a new technological era where artificial creations can successfully fool even those you may think could never be fooled – just look at our story about the AI generated image winning a local photo competition as an example.

The implications are even more far-reaching than simply issues of authenticity too. What’s to stop publishers or advertisers from generating their own images with a few clicks rather than employing a photographer for their expertise?

For someone who loves the creative process and how humans have discovered infinite ways to express it, it’s hard to see much that’s positive about AI technology being used in these ways.

And yet whether we like it or not, AI is here and most of us are already using it, and quite possibly without even realising it – subject detection autofocus in our cameras is an AI technology, as are the new masking tools in Adobe Lightroom, or the in-camera editing our smartphones do automatically every time we take a photo.

So with the cat now out of the bag, we’re really at a crossroads. Do we embrace AI, or do we just hope that the question of should we use it continues to be asked? Whatever happens, the future of our creativity depends on it, and it’s happening right now. ❂

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