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Truth ...& AI

There continues to be an unending stream of conversations and postulations about Artificial Intelligence. From its infancy we've wondered about a myriad of issues surrounding the possible paths it may take. While I don't pay much attention to advances in tech, the pervasiveness of AI has piqued my interest somewhat. For me, it is little to do with the actual technology. I'm concerned with what role it can play in our lives and how its presence can affect our future. Very concerned, in fact.

I know any issue voiced about AI conjures apocalyptic images of robots ruling the roost with iron fists and silicon hearts - but there is much to agonise over before we get to that point.

Before I begin a full-blown fulmination, I'd like to say that there are many benefits of AI. From my perspective, the cameras as well as some of the processing software I use are powered by AI to excellent effect. I'm happy that AI can assure me of a sharp photograph even when the light is low. I'm extra happy that AI can smooth out a grainy image!

I photographed this Trinidad Motmot long after sunset. Without AI, I would've never been able to dream of getting a single usable photo.

Recently I've seen the availability of AI-powered image generating software become almost universal. It is a novelty of a futuristic time, and we have greeted it with the same innocent curiosity. It certainly is fun to throw in a few prompts and have software generate an image. AI has what some consider to be the ultimate power - the ability to create.

As a photographer documenting the natural world, I feel compelled to communicate the exact scene as I witnessed it. Honesty plays a significant role within the operating limits of image processing. Much the same ethos is involved in any other form of documentary photography. The platforms used to transfer this genre of photography to the end consumer are news agencies, magazines, and so on. How then can AI impact on this ecosystem of photographer - medium - consumer?

This is the lens with which I wish to examine AI as it hones it abilities. Let's say there is a writer for a magazine preparing an article on the Trinidad Piping-Guan, for example. Would it be at all possible to request this from an AI image generator at some point? Maybe an image of an iconic scene can be cooked up as well? I use these examples because they fall well in my garden - but my thoughts also extend to reportage imagery. Would AI be able to create imagery using a combination of realtime and historical data of a current issue unfolding down the street or on the other side of the world?

The role of the human photographer in capturing a scene and rendering it to the viewer involves the ability to communicate not only what happened but also the emotive energy of the scene. The photographer presents the subjects as well as the invisible, implied relationships within the scene. I photographed a distraught looking Least Grebe (image below) some days ago that kept hovering around its nest - exposed via the actions of grass-cutters. To me, the dismay was plastered all over the bird's countenance. It forms an integral part of the narrative here, and both image and words ideally should be paired to ensure whomever views the end product is made fully aware of what unfolded.

Would AI image generation software then at some point be able to create a meaningful image of some "natural" scene, whether it is of a wild animal on the brink of extinction or a boat of migrant humans lost at sea? The veracity of which would be indiscernible? Further to this, would the AI generated image be able to communicate a feeling? Surely, we would be able to dictate this as well. It may be possible then, to use AI to paint a picture of pleasantries when in fact, the scene is as dismal as any.

Should this all unfold, what would the result of this be? If we can dictate the emotion communicated then we have unbridled access to a library of manipulation. The onus is on the entities responsible for sourcing of imagery therefore, to ensure that humans remain the witnesses of the world. Unless of course, it is deemed more beneficial - profitable - to amplify falsities. Let us hold hope that the rise of AI shall not be translated to the downfall of Truth.

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