Taking a look into Google Pixel's Ethical lens.

Taking a look into Google Pixel's Ethical lens.

The concept of an infallible camera has evolved with the times. In today's smartphone era, on-the-fly digital enhancements have become the norm, ranging from vivid color boosts to subtle light adjustments. Now, a new generation of smartphone tools, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), is challenging our understanding of reality in photography.

Google recently launched its Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones, taking image manipulation a step further than other manufacturers. These devices employ AI to modify people's expressions in photos. This addresses a common issue where someone in a group photo might look away from the camera or not smile. Google's phones can now analyze your photo library, selecting and blending past expressions from other pictures to create the ideal shot, a feature they call "Best Take."

These smartphones also offer the capability to erase, relocate, or resize unwanted elements in a photo, whether it's people or buildings, by employing the "Magic Editor." This feature utilizes deep learning to determine the appropriate textures for filling the empty space, drawing from its vast knowledge base derived from millions of other images. Notably, this editing is not limited to photos taken on the device; it can also be applied to pictures in your Google Photos library using the Pixel 8 Pro.

This AI-driven technology has raised ethical concerns among observers. Critics have described it as "icky," "creepy," and a potential threat to people's trust in online content. Andrew Pearsall, a professional photographer and senior journalism lecturer at the University of South Wales, emphasized the dangers of AI manipulation, both for professionals and the general public, cautioning against crossing ethical boundaries.

Google, however, asserts that these features do not constitute deception and that they enhance the quality of photography. The reviews have generally praised the camera system's photo quality, allowing users to capture the perfect shot they desire, even if that precise moment never occurred in reality.

Professor Rafal Mantiuk, an expert in graphics and displays at the University of Cambridge, reminds us that smartphones aim to create aesthetically pleasing images rather than authentic ones, relying on machine learning to fill in missing information, improve zoom, enhance low-light performance, and make photos more appealing.

While image manipulation is not new, artificial intelligence has made it easier than ever to augment reality. Samsung faced criticism for using deep learning to enhance lunar photos, essentially providing users with a more picturesque moon than what they actually saw.

Google adds metadata to its photos to indicate when AI has been used, emphasizing transparency in its approach. The debate surrounding AI usage in photography is complex and nuanced, and Google believes it's essential to consider each feature's impact on a case-by-case basis.

As these new technologies raise ethical questions about reality, Professor Mantiuk reminds us of the limitations of our own perception. Our brains also construct images, filling in missing details, and inferring information to create the sharp, colorful images we perceive. In this sense, while cameras may be said to "fake stuff," the human brain does something similar in its own unique way.

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