Understandably, new powerful technologies like generative AI triggers anxiety. But the conversation needs to evolve and move on from the fear of what it might potentially do if left unrestrained: From cataclysmic copyright infringement to the complete substitution of our reality, it is bringing a tsunami of society devastating changes. And if our elected political representatives do not protect us with the combined forces of ethics and legislation, the world, as we know it, will soon cease to exist. Or so they say.
While some of the issues raised are legitimate, they hide the real fear. The fear of replacement. The stock photo industry has long been aware that this time would come. Along the way, it has received many hints and indications of its powerful implication.
A History of NO
When digital started replacing film, some raised banners and screamed heresy: “Those pixels and dot matrix surely cannot and will not replace true photography,” they said. “Never will we involve ourselves in the trade of digital signals. Chemistry is the real photography”. And like today, the arguments pointed out that with digital, it was much easier to manipulate an image than it was with film. Nevertheless, no laws or ethical guidelines were passed, Photoshop was created, and digital took over.
The second similar shockwave was microstock. Here were these tech-savvy companies using untrained masses to sell images online via credit cards. High-volume content at dirt-cheap prices was unethical. The devil’s work. Here too, banners were raised, fear-mongering speeches were heard, and abiding pledges to resist the change were signed with blood ( ok, we exaggerate here a bit). Obviously, once again, microstock took over most of the industry in the following decade.
As said, we have seen this before. And we are all still here. Granted, some were forced to choose other occupations, but we know why.
Fear makes you blind
The current overwhelming discourse of the stock photo industry on how generative AI’s scrapping process is a massive copyright infringement is dangerously distracting everyone from understanding and adapting to the changes. By overshadowing the conversation with weak claims that legislation will soon come to stop the onslaught of AI-generated content, some in the industry are doing others a major disfavour. It makes it seem that this industry’s existential threat is reversible. It is not.
There is an agenda behind this speech around legal issues. Some would like to delay the adoption of this new technology by others until they are ready to implement it. Others would like to profit from data set fear. In other words, they would like you to look elsewhere and follow their lead for personal gain. False prophets, like it often happens in seemingly Armageddon times.
Sure, there are legal hurdles to be ironed out. And they will be. But not in a way that will reverse the course of change.
Generative AI is here.
Generative AI is here, now. Nothing will happen that will make it go back into its bag and disappear. Anyone can now create photo-realistic images and videos via a text prompt. It is currently available in tools like Canva (100 million users) and Wepik and is about to be available in Microsoft tools like Powerpoint ( 345 million Office users) and its search engine, Bing. It is just a question of (a short period) of time before it is available in places like Google and Adobe’s creative suite. And everywhere thereafter. Regardless of anyone’s complaints, justified or not.
Education rather than fear.
So the discourse has to change. From blind fear to intelligent acceptance. From, ‘not over my dead body” to “how can I use this for my benefit?”. Generative AI offers much broader tools than the creation of content via a text prompt.
For example, semantic search. Using the formidable power of Natural Language Processing, one can index a whole library of images via the meaning of the images, rather than by their keywords. That allows for search results to be fully adapted to human language and expressions, regardless if images have keywords or not.
Generative AI also allows for the customization of existing content via smart image manipulation. With one click, one can modify the expression, hair length, sweater colour, and background setting of practically any image, allowing users to customize an existing image to its particular need. Hybrid photography: a mix of existing and AI-modified images. It’s like Photoshop but with one click instead of 10 years of training.
Some of what generative AI technology can do today, starting with a real image ( video via Bria):
The road to success
While some in the stock photo industry retreat in their trenches following false flags in preparation for a battle already lost, start-up companies currently offer powerful commercial applications of generative AI that can be implemented today. These companies have strict legal and ethical guidelines that are already way past any of the fear-mongering allegations. Real solutions and real answers to respond with intelligence to the technology changes.
It is an opportunity to ride the wave instead of being crushed by it. And to let the self-serving prophets of doom drown in their own blind speeches of ignorance. Rather than aimlessly try to defeat it, the stock industry needs to understand, accept, adapt, and take full advantage of the fabulous creative power of generative AI. It’s the only road to success.