Your new retoucher…Siri?

Fear of automation is not new; ever since Czech author Karel Čapek first coined the word “robot” in 1920, nearly a century ago, in his play ”R.U.R.,” we have both marveled and feared about the advent of mechanical inventions that could take over our basic motor and cognitive functions, and replace us in the workplace.

After all, we have seen it happen in the auto-plants of America in the 70s; when cars began to be more efficiently and economically built by robots. Since then, automation has taken over many other aspects of our lives; from packaging eggs, through to replacing traffic cops at intersections.

In 2017, in a new American world, riven by fears of globalization, we’re all kind of scared that even our taxis will be driven by faceless digital interfaces in this decade.

That’s kind of okay (and might even spare us those dull taxi-driver conversations on the way home), but what happens when “robots” take over the creative stuff too; that which was supposed to be the last resort for the creative middle-class, who believed themselves to be irreplaceable?

Sure, we might lament that supermarket check-out clerks, or hotel receptionists, are being replaced in face-to-face service industries; but isn’t the creative class secure that all of those (expensive) art school and photography school lessons would count for something unique, and employable, down the line?

Well, hang on to your hats, ladies and gentleman, because in what could be the most horrifying story ever, it seems that Adobe is, Frankenstein-like, stitching together a digital creature that might be able to replace… wait for it… a photo editor.

In a recent video, it seems that there might be a new digital sheriff in town. According to Adobe:

Adobe Research “is exploring what an intelligent digital assistant photo editing might look like,” the research team wrote in the introduction to the YouTube video. “To envision this, we combined the emerging science of voice interaction with deep understanding of both creative workflows and the creative aspirations of our customers.

So what are we to make of this? Are our robot overlords finally going to render us obsolete?

Firstly, if we examine the complete extent of the new capabilities of this ‘terrifying’ development; we can see that it doesn’t go much beyond cropping, reversing,… and basically doing what we all did, when we first logged in to our first Photoshop tutorial. It’s hardly reinventing the wheel.

As such, it seems that photo interns will have at least few more years in the photo industry, before they are forced to find unpaid (but ultimately rewarding) labor in street theater, or non-profit eco-groups.

But let’s give Adobe their due: they are working on improving the capabilities of this software, to replace everybody in their own creative industry but the photographer (and maybe that too?), over time. As they state:

“Our speech recognition system is able to directly accept natural user voice instructions for image editing either local through on-device computer or through a cloud-based Natural Language understanding service. This is the first step towards a robust multimodal voice-based interface which allows our creative customers to search and edit images in an easy and engaging way.”

But, as of yet, this Siri assistant isn’t able to even dodge and burn a print, or do much more than flip and crop it.

Let’s be glad that Siri can’t, yet, work to the same specifications as if Annie Leibowitz was stood over your shoulder, demanding that some of someone’s turkey neck be smoothed out for Vanity Fair; or Ansel Adams was demanding a little more “contrast” on a snowcapped mountain top; or Weegee wanted a little darker blood on that murder scene.

We are all scared about the future; but let’s, at least, celebrate the stability of photo assistants. Let’s face it, can a digital interface run out for a latte at 9am?

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