A photographer’s bold move: submitting a real photo to an ai art contest

A photographer tricks an AI jury by sending a real photo to an AI competition, raising important ethical questions and demonstrating the limits of technology compared to nature's creativity

We’ve seen stories of AI-generated images submitted to photography and art competitions. These algorithms have become so advanced that, in some cases, the results are almost indistinguishable from human-created art. Photographer Miles Astray had a different idea. He submitted a real photograph to an AI competition: the 1839 Color Photography Awards. His reasoning? As he explains:

“I wanted to demonstrate that nature can still beat the machine and that there’s still merit in the real work of real creatives. After seeing recent examples of AI-generated images beating real photos in contests, I started thinking about flipping the story and its implications by submitting a real photo to an AI contest.”

The photo is a surreal (yet very real) image of a flamingo hiding its head. At first glance, one might be fooled into thinking it’s an AI-altered image. And that’s likely what deceived the contest judges, as the photo won third prize in the competition. It even won the popular vote award.

We still can’t recognize AI images

If you’ve ever felt bad about being fooled by an AI-created image, well, it happens to everyone. The judges of this AI photography contest were professionals working for The New York Times and Getty Images, among others. Apparently, no one realized the photo was real.

Astray explained that his experiment was a success:

“Of course, I regret deceiving the jury, but I think they are professionals who might find that this attack on AI and its ethical implications outweighs the ethical implications of deceiving the public, which is ironic because that’s what AI does.

I am happy to see that this experiment confirmed my hypothesis: there’s nothing more fantastic and creative than Mother Nature herself. I don’t demonize new technology and see its potential, but right now, I still more clearly see its limitations and dangers.”

Competition organizers respond

The competition organizers stated that they understood the message behind the work but had to disqualify the photo:

“No one believes in the power of photography more than we do. We asked Miles to work with us and release a statement for a future blog post on this exact topic, using his admission, the press release, and any statement he will share as a starting point. As an artist, his voice will make a difference in this conversation.

However, after much internal discussion, we decided to disqualify his entry in the AI category out of respect for the other artists who submitted their work. Our competition categories are specifically defined to ensure fairness and clarity for all participants. Each category has distinct criteria that participants’ images must meet.”

The future of AI Images and perception of reality

Where does this leave us? We still do not have a reliable way to distinguish between AI photography and real images. Our eyes and brains are not reliable for this task, and other algorithms are also quite unreliable. Meanwhile, we are starting to encounter more and more AI-generated images.

Art and photography contests are one thing: they are meant to make us think. But what happens when we have AI images depicting politicians or even our colleagues? For now, only a few algorithms can create images realistic enough to fool people, and they have safeguards, but other companies are not as ethical, and soon we will face a flood of AI images in our daily lives. The implications are vast and multifaceted, affecting trust, authenticity, and our perception of reality.

Nature may be unparalleled, but technology is already good enough to deceive us. Who knows what implications all this will have?

Source: 1839 Awards

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