Artificial intelligence has crossed a tipping point. AI is more than ubiquitous. It is stealthy. It can rob us without our knowing it. We’ve previously glimpsed AI’s implications for photography, but now the slippery slope just became steeper.
Photoshop was originally invented to be a digital darkroom. We bought the software under two unspoken assumptions: (1) our starting point was to be a photograph, and (2) a photographer was to be at the helm. With Photoshop, a photographer might have represented an apple as being redder than it was, but there was an apple, and it was in front of the camera. Moreover, we could calibrate our belief in what we saw to correspond with our trust in the photographer. But all that has changed.
Photoshop is now capable of independently generating an image. Users can now type keywords, prompting the software to generate pixels depicting objects, settings, and events. With this tool, users can produce a persuasive “photograph” of George Washington crossing the Delaware River in a canoe wearing boxer shorts. Photographic skills (such as camerawork, lighting, composition, or just being there) are not required.
This tool opens the door to many creative endeavors. I look forward to exploring them myself. But it also undermines one role played by extraordinary photographs. Previously, when photographers shared their visions, viewers could reasonably expect that, had we been at the photographers’ sides, we might have seen their subjects that way, too. The extraordinary photographs inspired awe.
That may no longer be.
Consider this photograph of Silas Riener. It is real. He actually did that. This dance photograph required a repeated effort so demanding he could barely walk the following day. The photograph is powerful because it is real. More importantly, his physical achievement broadens our expectations of what is humanly possible. Artificial intelligence may dazzle our imaginations, but let it not rob us of our aspirations.
Especially in an age of virtual reality, we must continue to seek and support work celebrating life in its natural glory.