Real and Fake

The first set of images here is real, created by humans with cameras. The bottom two are fakes created by an Artificial Intelligence program.

Crows aren’t necessarily the most civil of birds, but they’re smart and versatile. Here photographer Susan Black has captured one in the act of eating the innards of a clamshell. The bird flew high with the closed shell and then dropped it on the paved path, where it broke open.

Park visitor Mary Sears contributes this snapshot of a very young Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer) proceeding at great risk through a mowed area. The reptile was not more than 18 inches long, she reports. At that size they are highly prized prey for a number of raptors who could easily spot them in this relatively open stretch of habitat. The young one would be much safer in standing grass or other vegetation.

Below the snake are three photos of Black-crowned Night-Herons. The one on the left is by Merrill Gillaspie, who says this adult bird held its position for almost an hour as she walked around the park. The next image is by Erika St. John, who found the adult bird perched in a cedar tree next to a driveway leading into the Hilton Doubletree Hotel. This may be a parent bird. It’s believed that these birds nest in that tree. The third image was texted to me by an anonymous photographer identified only by a phone number. The message is that this bird was spotted on the K dock. This is a juvenile Night-Heron. Obviously it was not intimidated by the plastic owl that the boat owners put up to try to scare off messy seagulls.

These next images are something different.

No human and no camera created these two images. I input “Photograph of three Burrowing Owls in a field of California wildflowers” as instruction into a website called Dall-E2. The images came out less than a minute afterward. Dall-E2 is an Artificial Intelligence project newly opened to the public for free. It can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. Here, the owls are realistic enough, but the setting is wishful. We don’t see these owls in the springtime when wildflowers bloom; they’re gone by then to their breeding areas. If we could create a safe and comfortable enough setting for these birds to do their breeding here, these images might make a claim to realism. AI image generation is a hot and controversial new field. There’s issues of plagiarism, because the AI software obtained its images by scraping them off the web. There’s issues of authorship, as in the recent case of an AI image that won an art contest. But, like many a questionable venture, this can be a lot of fun. Dall-E 2 is only one of several sites with similar capabilities. Will AI put artists and photographers out of work? Will viewers lose all faith in the truthiness of images?

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One thought on “Real and Fake

  • October 10, 2022 at 11:29 am
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    Marty asks, somewhat rhetorically, “Will AI put artists and photographers out of work?”

    No, though it can add –and surely will in ever more satisfying quality and purpose– to the collective work.

    And “Will viewers lose all faith in the truthiness of images? ”

    That skepticism has already materialized, and for good reason –even before the advent of AI tools.

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