People ask me often enough these days, what are my feelings about AI. Well, how far down that rabbit hole do you want to go? Ultimately, I think humanity will decide that the entire point of it's existence probably shouldn't be to provide sustenance for the machines that replace it. But who knows. Maybe we are living an an AI created simulation right now. Maybe our species is just the just the bridge to a super intelligence. Matrix anyone?
But let's back up for a second. What about photography art, video art, these kinds of visual records specifically? There's something I know a thing or two about. One main point I'd like to make is the fact that however artistic these pursuits may be, much of their value to society has always been that they are in part just that, visual records. If someone goes on a once in a lifetime adventure to a spectacular place, for example, they aren't all going to be inclined to ask AI to generate a random image of that place and have that be all they take to remember it by. These sorts of fantastical digital renderings will soon be ubiquitous, but they are most importantly, not our story.
Buying a painting or rendering of a place we love doesn't satisfy the same purpose as recording what we actually saw, felt and experienced at a moment spent there. The ability to look back on that moment and present it in our own unique artistic way is part of the human soul, since the days of cave paintings. It isn't something that will simply be replaced by a machine.
Maybe some of my fellow landscape photographers got lost somewhere along the way and their art became more about an image at any cost, not the place or experience. Perhaps it becomes like a game, or competition for them to make something. As AI continues to develop, that specific competition may well be over. There may soon be a time where any image, or even video, that you see could be AI, or it could be created by a human through personal experience, and it is my hope that line is not inextricably blurred, however inevitable that may seem. To have an AI program write an essay for your homework assignment or muse philosophically about the place of art in life, and have that writing be indistinguishable from that of a human, is not only possible, it's here now. In the near future AI could be able to lobby politicians, write policy and generate entire feature-length films just because it got a few prompts to do so. This was not written by AI, just for the record. Our entire world has the potential to be reshaped, but back to photography.
For me, wilderness and exploring have been the foundations of my life. I have been leading tours around the world doing just that for well over 20 years. In wilderness, in experiences, is my solace. Many of my clients see my pictures and want to take similar themselves, but when I tell them you could just buy that image or tell a painter or AI program to reproduce something like that they scoff, of course, what am I, crazy? This is THEIR moment, they were there to press that shutter button the moment the whale jumped out of the water, and no matter how many other perfect whale jumping shots they saw, no other would suffice as theirs. In addition to the very personal and important aspect of telling one's own story, the art of reshaping and editing images is a very personal thing. Typing in commands and prompts and seeing what image gets generated might be fine for the background in an ad, but not as welcome when attempting to describe how a particular moment made you feel, especially if it's from a place or moment the AI isnt programmed to recognize. For example, the art of music was perhaps the first to be inundated with the simulated effects of AI, but people still want to compose, still want to play instruments, still want to create organically. To art is to human.
To bet on AI simulations and fantasy replacing the human desire to create their own organic art is to bet on the demise of the entire human species. And I personally, hope we aren't there quite yet.
Perhaps the biggest part of not being there, in my opinion, is to develop ways to better discern or advertise which images are renderings, and which are organic. We have seen it already with GPT-Zero being developed to identify Chat-AI written text. Open AI lab itself is even developing such tools, recognizing how deceptive their product can be in the wrong hands. If history tells us anything, in the art world, many more ways of identifying AI are sure to rapidly be developed if for no other reason that the universal desire for human connection. We crave organic substance, rarity and authentication in our lives. A cubic zirconia may look exactly like a diamond but it never will be. A ubiquitous AI generation that took 2 minutes will never command the thousands of dollars that a hand painted masterpiece that took hundred of hours will, even if they look the same. Even a picture of a lion at the zoo will never be the same, in a collectors eyes, as a lion in African wild, let alone some commonplace digital rendering of a picture of a lion.
Rarity, organic, authentic, hand crafted, name brand human. That's what commands respect in the art and collector's world, and although we have seen some AI "art" up for sale in it's infancy, we cannot expect it to maintain whatever momentary value it had to someone when the market is flooded. It's possible even, that as tools and methods of separation between AI and human made are developed, there may be a great renaissance underway, with renewed emphasis on human creations. I hope there is. I am firmly on the human team. I don't see any other way.