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My AI Backstory
Continuing from the 'About me' story on how and why this project came to be
[Continuing from my ‘About me’ story]
In early December 2022, I read a couple of posts about new applications using artificial intelligence (AI) that could create fantastic images from nothing but simple, descriptive text inputs. Apparently, these new tools had become publicly available sometime in mid- or late-November. Maybe I saw an article title or two back then, but since they weren’t directly related to photography, they likely didn’t make me curious enough to read and explore further.
Then one day, sometime in mid-December, I saw several posts about how these new products were either a new way to “do photography” or a new way to enhance photography. They got my attention—on more than one level.
Soon thereafter, there were posts about how this new tech threatens photography—some portending its imminent death as we know it. There is no doubt that posts relating words of apocalyptic consequences to something in which I am heavily invested with my time and money (reading this stuff after having just made some major new gear purchases), and articles that play fast-and-loose with terms and semantics, certainly got my attention.
The combination of all the above, along with other topics not yet mentioned, soon elevated my natural skepticism, cynicism, and general wariness. This tends to happen whenever newly alleged next-best things are foisted upon me, and I am told I would be a fool if I do not submit to and embrace whatever “it” is with all my being—or risk being left behind. Yes, there were posts that actually said such things using such words.
I began to call all this collective tech “IT.” Great! Another topic to add to my already bloated daily reading list.
Then I read an article on how these generative image models are trained. It was written in a manner short on details and clear as mud. That gave me a sense of unease.
Then I found more detailed articles supplying more specifics of said training. In a nutshell, this involved massive input from collections of image-text pairings. Some were supplied from publicly available and licensed collections developed for the purpose. Billions more were simply and systematically scraped from “public websites.”
My unease became outright agitation after I began to find my images in one of the larger training datasets. Lots of them.
Yes, I always knew that anything posted online could likely be lifted. But I also know that without the internet, having my work seen and possibly bought by anyone, anywhere, would be impossible. So I shrugged my shoulders and accepted the conundrum.
But that acquiescence was based on the assumption that theft of my images would be done by individuals. Those infringing on my copyrights could be (and have been) found, and the situation addressed.
Calculated, deliberate, en-masse scraping of my work by corporate entities to train new, for-profit apps intended for use by the general public (and we can only guess for what other purposes), never entered my mind.
And—spoiler alert—this is quite likely completely legal.
These unsolicited, secretive, intentional, bald-faced incursions into any websites they so desired, for the purpose of taking my images, undeterred simply because they could—without my permission and without compensation—in order to produce new for-profit AI-generative apps some perceive as abusive and threatening to photography, a favorite personal endeavor, made me mightily agitated.
So much so that Me, Myself, and I had a meeting (more of an internal argument), after which we decided to put aside the original over-winter plan to revisit, rework, and revamp my existing photographic ventures. There was simply no point continuing as my brain was now infested and infected by the actions and implications of IT. Having glommed and latched on to IT, it won’t let IT go.
The implications and future impacts of artificial intelligence are going to be huge. So is the hype of previously unimaginable benefits that deep machine learning (a more accurate term) will have for our human potential. The oxymoronic juxtaposition of those concepts and the lack of restraint in saying so do not sit well with me.
Huge for whom, in what manner, and at what cost? Or would a better, more accurate question be, at whose expense…besides mine and all the others who don’t know they’ve been robbed?
Then I realized what the ultimate questions are:
Why do these companies need to produce tools for the production of generative “art” in the first place?
How does this fit into their business model or agenda?
(I provide a speculative answer here at the sister publication ThisOldGoat).
Passive anger achieves nothing. Action is necessary: calm, studious, deliberative, focused, community-oriented, directed, and properly targeted action.
I am ainxious, agitaited, vexed, stressed, and sleep-depraived because I have become attuned to the web of related topics, cross-correlations, and the threats included in this burgeoning and bewildering morass of social, economic, and political implications, all brought about by reading a few innocuous articles, a few months ago, about a few new digital toys, with more than a few implications for photography, and way beyond. What began by perusing those first few articles has quickly turned into a mountain of reading, notes, databases, and draft posts. It’s already all-consuming and overwhelming.
I do not intend to research the entire realm of AI technologies and attempts to create problematic parallel virtual universes. The specific aspects to which I have been trying to limit myself are still a massive undertaking. The amount of historical data that existed before these subjects were of broad interest is enormous, but now that AI-generative technologies have exploded into public consciousness, the amount of new daily noise about IT is expanding exponentially (much of it written or augmented in seconds by AI tools).
I hope I have made it clear that asking the right questions and finding the right information is the key to action. There is no substitute, no shortcuts. Let me also be clear that all necessary information is not free to be found on the web. What is online is but a subset of all that is available, and not all that is available there is visible—or free. Please keep that in mind as you continue…
So sensing no relief, no way out, I’m “in.” I have a new purpose. Retirement will not be a tranquil ride into my sunset. Can I transition from being “in” to “all in?” Are there enough people who are concerned enough to invest in my purpose—our purpose—allowing me to retire from my job, transition into a new retirement job, and do so sooner than later? It’s a gamble for me and anyone who wants to tag along.
There are vaccines to prevent various physical afflictions and medications to wean addicts from many dependencies, but none is known to prevent or quash the revival of my addiction to the disquisitive. It has been disquieting, to say the least.
Since I was vexed by this quest, I haven’t shot a single frame. Will I be able to make time to get out and about with my actual, physical photography gear to capture and present the real, natural actual world in non-AI-generated words and actual photographs—while I still have time?
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