With whimsical and innovative photo editing software and features available to every smartphone holder these days, the fine art of photography has never been more accessible. Digital transformation has paved the way for rapid tech-led advancements like no other, but with such a prominent focus on artificial intelligence (AI) these days, there is a risk that technology could disrupt the very essence of human creativity.
AI, particularly in recent years, has shaken many industries to their very core, with organizations, both small and large, seeking to leverage the technology for process automation. Some of the most talked-about tools – i.e. the ones that dominate online discourse about ethical AI – are AI content generation tools like ChatGPT, Dall-E, Midjourney, and others.
These tools can generate highly convincing images and text in a matter of seconds, thus creating huge concerns for creatives who pour hours of hard work into content planning, creation, editing, and distribution.
Furthermore, an underlying issue persists, so such a flagrant attitude toward AI content generation is almost irreparably damaging to creative thinking and ideation. Humans’ ability to think logically and from experience to create thought-provoking and engaging content is at risk of being washed away with computer algorithms and programs that create images based on a few instructions.
This article explains why that cannot afford to be lost, what AI means for the future of photography, and why human supervision, judgment, and professional input remain essential.
Photo enthusiasts are concerned about AI
AI-powered tools have emerged to automate numerous tasks across a spectrum of sectors and specialisms, from transport and marketing to healthcare and finance. AI and automation have both pioneered groundbreaking developments in alleviating human teams from many admin-heavy tasks, as well as augmenting them to focus more resources on higher-value work. Regrettably, the same can be said for the time-consuming and arduous tasks involved with photo editing and capturing.
Rightfully, many creatives are voicing concern that this could pose long-term job security risks and challenges, but that’s not all. While AI technology shows plenty of promise and evident business benefits, there are plenty of concerns about image privacy, copyright laws, exploitation, security risks and vulnerabilities, and the displacement of hard-working creatives in the sector.
The risk of dwindling human creativity
Human creativity is an irreplaceable and valuable asset that no technology or monetary value can replace. Our ability to generate ideas, challenge opinions, evoke emotional responses, and solve complex problems through innovation, critical thinking, and experience is something that we cannot take for granted.
Despite its best efforts, if we take the strawman situation of photo creation and editing – AI cannot create an image based on these elements alone. AI has to be told what to do and what to create by humans, and as a technology, it cannot adapt, evolve, and use logic to solve issues. Instead, it is simply a set of algorithms that follow instructions.
Unlike AI, which works with a predefined set of rules, human creativity knows no bounds; photography creatives can explore a whole realm of possibilities when coming up with new ideas or ways to express themselves through imagery. Human creativity has been instrumental in driving, innovating, and developing many of society’s greatest treasures—art, literature, music, and other forms of self-expression vital to our culture and identity.
Unfortunately, as we move toward a future where AI will grow in influence, human creativity has only grown in importance. We cannot afford to lose a crucial, limitless ability that sets us apart from machines. While AI tools can be instructed to, for example, ‘come up with ideas for X’, or ‘generate three potential names for this topic’, we are, unconsciously, giving up our creative liberties.
Granted, AI tools can help explore rudimentary, basic-level ideas and give creatives some essential inspiration to overcome creative ‘writer’s block,’ but is this leading to collective laziness when exploring innovative, new concepts?
Are there limitations?
Human creatives tend to work within their own ‘comfort zones’, creating content that reflects their own experiences, backgrounds, values, and ideals. This has led to the argument that human content can, invariably, be considered biased and not as culturally or socially inclusive as we hope it to be.
Photographers, as just one example, build their skills and portfolios over many years of projects and investment. However, they are still humans at the end of the day; they need to eat, sleep, and take breaks in order to remain productive, and if these are in short supply, it can have a knock-on effect on their ability to generate ideas and think creatively. It would be remiss of us to ignore the fact that AI can—and often does—save time and effort in this regard.
However, entrusting too many ‘creative’ tasks to computers is a risk worth addressing.
Other risks and challenges of over-automation in photography
While it can be easy for visual content decision-makers to look at AI with rose-tinted glasses, it’s essential to look beyond the benefits. While AI tools may be able to save time and introduce ways to improve efficiency, integrating it at scale without consideration for their drawbacks would be highly naive. While AI tools can bridge gaps and give SMEs or self-employed creatives much-needed assistance when resources are limited, larger businesses should not view AI as a direct replacement for the hard-working creatives among them.
It’s not just about what the technology can and has the potential to do, but rather the ways in which it’s used. Some of the most common and prolific ethical concerns include, but are not limited to the following:
- Privacy risks: AI is fundamentally programmed to analyze and recognize patterns, which, in the photo generation and editing space, include the facial features of subjects. Privacy issues can arise from consent and boundaries within AI algorithms, or rather, the lack thereof.
- Bias issues: AI, while machine-driven, is never absolved from human accountability or influence. AI could be trained on data that is inherently biased and, bilaterally, replicate those biases and potentially perpetuate unfair or dangerous stereotypes, or misinformed discourse. This can manifest in photo editing by favoring certain skin tones, backgrounds, or facial structures, leading to biased or flawed representations.
- Job displacement fears: As more photo editing tasks become automated, many photographers are concerned about the lack of human input on AI output. Many experts believe that AI has the potential to disrupt humanity in profound ways if the industry continues to evolve as rapidly as it has been in recent years, especially with the minimal regulation in place currently.
- Exploitation potential: The controversial by-products of advanced photo AI are deepfakes and false imagery. While they exemplify the technology’s sophistication, they can lead to misleading the public, false narratives, and damaged reputations. As more tools prove capable of blurring the lines between reality and imitation, original works can be substantially altered or duplicated, reducing the value of unique, authentic imagery.
For photographers and businesses, this means that they must work harder to protect their work and prevent it from being unethically exploited.
Can AI and human creativity coexist harmoniously?
While the downsides of AI editing tools are apparent, it’s essential to recognize a commonly overlooked argument when weighing AI against human creativity. They are not mutually exclusive.
AI tools will continue to be developed and refined while human creativity remains constant. As AI grows in sophistication and can perform tasks that fall outside of human remit, it’s important to remember the limitations of AI. This is why human oversight and supervision are crucial when deploying AI.
Human creativity is often instinctive and comes naturally to us, whereas AI has to be programmed to perform tasks, some of which may be considered ‘creative.’ Our inherent creativity is powerful and influential, and despite AI’s ability to work quickly and at scale, human creativity is a valuable asset that AI, however sophisticated, cannot replace or replicate.
Therefore, the most logical conclusion to draw from this is that AI can be used to generate possible ideas, but human creators should primarily develop, refine, and explore these further. This will boil down to increased collaboration and methodical execution in AI deployment.
By all means, automate more tedious and time-consuming tasks to AI to speed up your processes and guide its application strategically as your workload expands. However, don’t use it as a way to augment creative decision-making; this is an asset unique to you and your work, and no computer can shape content the way you can.
Prioritize the human supervision of any AI tool to ensure it offers supplemental value and helps correctly, rather than viewing them as a like-for-like creative replacement. They are not and never will be.