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4 January 2022

We were reading a library book the other day when we had to stop scanning the words for a moment. We'd just read the most extraordinary thing. The perfect description of artificial intelligence.

Not a Cat. But you get the idea. Ridiculous.

The book was Incidental Inventions, a collection of the year-long series of columns published in the Guardian by the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante.

In the essay Trembling, she wrote:

However much we empower ourselves with increasingly sophisticated technology, we remain comic creatures, like the cat that a child dresses as if it were doll.

We smiled.

AI-this and AI-that with machine learning algorithms have been creeping into image editing software at an increasing rate. Nothing is spared from the new algorithms. Sharpening, enlarging, demoisaicizing, denoising, colorizing, styling, you name it.

In some cases, like DxO's DeepPRIME, there really is a wealth of data behind what goes on. And what goes on is not generally transparent. Not in demosaicizing or denoising anyway. So we're happy to welcome the innovation into our bag of tricks.

But when it comes to Photoshop's neural filters, we're finding they just don't show up in our published images. We try but the shoe never fits.

As compelling new features they consequently don't obsolete older versions of the software as the Healing Brush once did. Or Clarity. Or Dehaze. Or anything with perspective correction. All of which we have come to rely on.

This just isn't the stuff a student profits from.

It reminds us of walking the aisles in college bookstores in the 1980s, appalled to see college units wasted on courses teaching Excel or Word. Really? What good are those lessons now? Whereas, if you'd spent a few weeks reading Aristotle or Spinoza or Melville, you'd find something still attached to your soul.

Maybe not a tattoo but at least a sticker.

Artificial intelligence, when it tries to automate the considered judgement of a skilled editor, is "like the cat that a child dresses as if it were doll." A little ridiculous.

Even if, when it improves on the failings of the binary representation of the world that digital photography indulges, it's magic.

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