The War Photographer and AI ..
War photography is a challenging and controversial profession that involves capturing images of armed conflicts, human suffering, and political violence. War photographers risk their lives to document the horrors of war, but also to raise awareness, inform the public, and influence policy. However, some critics argue that war photography could be replaced with AI pictures that are generated from data and algorithms, without exposing human photographers to danger or ethical dilemmas. In this essay, I will examine the pros and cons of this proposal and argue that war photography should not be replaced with AI pictures because they lack authenticity, context, and empathy.
One of the main arguments in favour of replacing war photography with AI pictures is that it would reduce the physical and psychological risks for human photographers. War photographers often face life-threatening situations, such as gunfire, explosions, landmines, kidnappings, and torture. They also witness traumatic scenes of death, injury, and destruction, which can have lasting effects on their mental health. According to a study by Anthony Feinstein et al., war photographers suffer from higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance abuse than other journalists or the general population. By using AI pictures instead of human photographers, these risks could be avoided or minimized.
Another argument in favour of replacing war photography with AI pictures is that it would eliminate the ethical problems that human photographers face. War photographers have to make difficult decisions about what to photograph, how to photograph it, and how to distribute it. They have to balance the principles of accuracy, objectivity, and impartiality with respect for human dignity, privacy, and consent. They have to deal with the dilemmas of intervention, manipulation, and censorship. They have to cope with the criticism of being voyeurs, exploiters, or propagandists. By using AI pictures instead of human photographers, these ethical problems could be solved or simplified.
However, these arguments are not convincing enough to justify replacing war photography with AI pictures. One of the main reasons is that AI pictures would lack authenticity. Unlike human photographers, who capture reality as they see it, AI pictures are based on data and algorithms that may not reflect the truth or the whole truth. AI pictures could be biased, inaccurate, incomplete, or misleading. They could be manipulated or fabricated by malicious actors for political or commercial purposes. They could also be influenced by the limitations or errors of the technology itself. For example, a recent study by Sam Gregory et al. found that current AI systems are not able to reliably detect deepfakes (AI-generated images or videos that impersonate real people or events). Therefore, AI pictures would not be able to provide credible evidence or testimony of what is happening in war zones.
Another reason why war photography should not be replaced with AI pictures is that AI pictures would lack context. Unlike human photographers, who can provide background information, analysis, interpretation, and commentary on their images, AI pictures would only show what is visible in the pixels. AI pictures would not be able to explain the causes, consequences, or meanings of what they depict. They would not be able to convey the historical, cultural, social, or political dimensions of war. They would not be able to capture the nuances, complexities, or contradictions of war. Therefore, AI pictures would not be able to educate or enlighten the viewers about the realities of war.
A third reason why war photography should not be replaced with AI pictures is that AI pictures would lack empathy. Unlike human photographers, who can express their emotions, feelings, and opinions in their images, AI pictures would only show what is measurable in the data. AI pictures would not be able to communicate the pain, suffering, or resilience of the people affected by war. They would not be able to evoke the sympathy, compassion, or solidarity of the viewers towards the victims of war. They would not be able to inspire the action, change, or peace that is needed to end war. Therefore, AI pictures would not be able to fulfil the humanitarian or social role of war photography.