What is a photo? It’s a memory of a precious time in your life when you and your loved ones enjoyed special moments together. In your mind, you remember the things you did, the places, you went, and most of all, the emotions experienced. Google’s new Pixel 8 AI-driven face swap filter seeks to destroy what it means to hold memories true by letting you essentially “Photoshop” your past with artificial intelligence, and I think it points to a larger discussion about how we’re now altering our reality to a point where things that happened will likely not be preserved in meaningful ways.
Innovation and accountability should go hand-in-hand
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the innovations Google has been putting together these past few years, and using the magic eraser tool to remove a photobomber from the background of a special photograph or move grandma a bit to the left so her hand is touching the waterfall for an optical illusion all seems fine. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that’s an important step forward for photography.
Where I have a problem (and others agree with me as well) is when you can tap and take my son’s face from in front of the Christmas tree and slap it on the carousel as shown below. While it may make the photo look more appealing at first glance, this essentially does two very devastating things to these vital aspects of human nature and life.
What is a photo?
First and most importantly, it hijacks our memories and destroys the special moment where a child or significant other intentionally made a goofy face to mess up the photo. Let’s get one thing straight – moments like this aren’t supposed to be picture perfect Brady Bunch recreations. The snarl, the tongue sticking out or the blinked eyes are all a part of the charm of that memory.
When your kids grow up and see that you essentially treated them like Frankenstein’s monster, they’ll wonder what their face really looked like in that moment. Guess what though – that part of their childhood will have been lost to an AI filter, forever tossed into the void, never to be recovered or remembered again. It’s worth noting that Google Photos does ask you if you want to save the original photo instead of overwriting it with this new monstrosity, but that only gives me some peace of mind in all of this.
Glamourizing perfection in an intentionally imperfect world
Second, it calls into question how far we’re truly willing to go in our society to glamourize perfection, “Instaglamorize” everything and destroy what it means to be imperfect humans who are on this journey of learning and living with one another.
You may not think it’s that serious, and I will certainly get some who say this filter is not that big of a deal, but I implore you – think carefully about how far and how fast we are allowing artificial intelligence to alter and drive our lives. It can be a force for good if we let it, but we have to remain in control of its trajectory and the decisions it makes in our lives.
That doesn’t even consider the fact that tools like this can be used to create ‘deepfakes’ of people, and completely change their face at the touch of a button to create a divergent narrative in any given situation. Yes, we’ll have to deal with this technology at some point, and we’ve had Photoshop for years and years now, but again I ask you – how far is far enough before we start to question this and be wary of its accessibility.
Nothing is real and we must contend
We’re literally at the point where we shrug every fantastical thing off as a photoshop or video manipulation and not question its legitimacy. If something incredible were to occur, we would shrug our shoulders and move on with our day, and that’s a terrifying thought.
I’ll just say this – I won’t be using this creepy filter to swap my son’s face onto another version of his body from a separate memory. The sheer uncanny valley or dissonance this would cause me in my mind would be too much to bear. It’s just freaking weird. Do it if you’d like, but what’s next? I’m betting on it now – video swapping AI alterations. At that point, nothing is real except for what is outside of the camera lens – the place we should be spending our time anyway.