A handmade sketch of four figures throwing shadows that look like neural networks

AI images – an ecosystem problem with a collaborative solution

Images of AI have been a problem rattling around my mind for many years. As a degree student studying AI, I naturally read a tonne of articles where the writing was excellent but the images did not match.

For decades as a reporter and editor covering technology stories, AI news would come and go but I was limited and frustrated by the options I had to illustrate stories. Now as an MA Illustration student I find myself returning to the problem and working on creating options so that other editors and picture desks have more to work with. It’s not a blame game, there is an ecosystem that desperately needs fresh input to break a cycle of cliches.

It’s not a blame game, there is an ecosystem that desperately needs fresh input to break a cycle of cliches.

Put in brief terms, many reporters don’t choose images to go with their stories, picture editors don’t always have anything other than stereotypes to put on their stories, photographers are often commissioned to shoot work that reinforces those stereotypes. The bottom line is that readers and content consumers get white robots, terminators and flying maths because it takes time and money, focus and expertise to change this and while good media outlets still need to attract readers by publishing quickly, they often take what they can get and move on.

Being one person working to try and change a visual language sometimes felt like an exercise in hubris. Frankly, it feels lonely! I have interviewed so many people, chatted with AI practitioners and other artists, and searched for other people working to solve the problem or change the ratio of images.

Work that affects society and is pushing for a visual cultural shift needs to be done collaboratively – which is precisely how I love to work.

Better Images of AI means I am not chasing this on my jack jones. The project brings together people of passion and expertise. We all know the problem and we can move beyond griping about it and actually work on solutions. Working with BBC R&D and Better Images of AI means working collaboratively. You can banish the idea of an artist who hides in the attic making paintings for years alone. Work that affects society and is pushing for a visual cultural shift needs to be done collaboratively – which is precisely how I love to work.

I have written more about my frustrations and my journey in a previous blog post which talks about the challenge of embodying AI. If you make work about AI or have ideas that would contribute to the stock photography and rendering work, make sure you get in touch.

I’ve been consulting with BBC R&D to work with artists as this project progresses and bring editorial and artistic views to help steer things. The first artist has been commissioned by BBC R&D, the wonderful Alan Warburton who is excellent in his execution, visionary in his ideas generation and a total pro to work with. You should follow his work.

In the coming year I hope to be able to work with more artists to explore this field and eventually, image by image, I think we can create images that will start to change how people perceive this technology and draw away from those images that for so many years have been one of my points of editorial frustration.

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