They say the camera never lies. Well, that’s not entirely true—especially in the era of smartphones and increasingly sophisticated digital editing.
In today’s world of photography, making on-the-fly digital enhancements to improve images is a common practice. This ranges from enhancing colors to adjusting lighting levels.
But now, a new generation of smartphone tools, fueled by artificial intelligence (AI), is provoking discussions about the nature of capturing reality through photography.
Debate Over Google Pixel’s AI Photo Alteration Tool
Google has taken things a step further with its latest smartphone models, the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro, which were released last week. These devices, in comparison to those from other manufacturers, use AI to modify people’s facial expressions in photos.
We’ve all been there—a group photo where one person isn’t looking at the camera or isn’t smiling. Google’s new phones can analyze your photo collection, identify suitable expressions from past photos, and use machine learning to insert a better smile from another image. This feature is called “Best Take” by Google.
Additionally, users can remove, relocate, and adjust undesired elements within a photo, whether they are people or buildings. This process, referred to as “Magic Editor,” fills the void by utilizing deep learning. Essentially, it’s an artificial intelligence algorithm that determines the appropriate textures to occupy the empty space by analyzing the nearby pixels. It does so by drawing from insights it has acquired from examining millions of other images.
Moreover, this functionality is not restricted to photos taken with the device. With the Pixel 8 Pro, users can apply the “Magic Editor” and “Best Take” to any images within their Google Photos library.
Unpleasant and Unsettling
This development prompts new considerations regarding photography.
Tech commentators and reviewers have expressed various concerns about Google’s AI technology, describing it as potentially “disturbing” (The Verge), “unsettling” (Tech Radar), and posing potential threats to people’s trust in online content (Cnet).
Andrew Pearsall, a professional photographer and senior lecturer in Journalism at the University of South Wales, concurred that AI manipulation carries risks.
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He emphasized that the risks are amplified for those employing AI in professional settings, but there are consequences for everyone to ponder.
One must exercise caution regarding the question of ‘When do you cross the line?’
“It’s becoming increasingly concerning that you can instantly remove elements from a photo using your phone. It feels like we’re entering a realm of a sort of artificial reality.”
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