This AI Image Fooled Judges and Won a Photography Contest

AI image of two surfers at sunrise
This AI image won a photography contest | Absolutely Ai

A stunning picture of two surfers paddling out to sea at sunrise has won a photography contest — except the scene is not real and was computer generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

Australian electronics company DigiDirect runs a weekly photo contest with a cash prize. Last week, it announced that a “drone shot” taken by “Jane Eykes” had won its Summer photo contest.

Shortly after the announcement was made, a studio called Absolutely Ai confessed that they had entered the image under false pretenses, declaring it “the world’s first AI-generated award-winning photograph.”

“We did it to prove that we’re at a turning point with artificially intelligent technology by passing the ultimate test,” the company writes in a statement.

“Could an AI-generated image not only slip by unnoticed (not one person who has seen the image has sensed anything out of the ordinary) but actually be awarded the top prize by a photography expert? The answer is resoundingly yes”

Through the Looking Glass

Last year, an AI image won a fine art contest in Colorado but this marks the first time a machine has won a photography contest.

It may not be the biggest photo competition, but it’s a huge warning for the industry. As the technology improves, it will become increasingly difficult to tell which is a genuine photo taken by the hands of a photographer and which is an artificial image spat out by a computer model trained on millions of images.

“The surfers in our image never existed. Neither does that particular beach or stretch of ocean,” Absolutely AI writes.

“It’s made up of an infinite amount of pixels taken from infinite photographs that have been uploaded online over the years by anyone and everyone.”

Jamie Sissons, one of Absolutely AI’s founders and the mastermind behind the image, tells that the technology scares him.

“As a creator, it is terrifying. I look back at the work that I have created. And if I’m being honest, it all looks so basic,” he says.

“I’ve won photography awards. I’ve won awards in filmmaking and things like that. And my stuff doesn’t look as good as what a machine can generate.”

Simmons says that the award-winning image was made with just a single text prompt and tells Australian Photogoraphy that the barrier to creating an amazing image has never been lower.

“Our award-winning ‘photograph’ is a good example of that,” he says. “We didn’t need to wake up at sunrise, drive to the beach and send the drone up to capture the image. We created this image from our couch in Sydney by entering text into a computer program.”

He adds: “We’re at a point now where machine may be the superior creator to man.”

The winning image was entered under the name Jan van Eyck, the 15th-century painter who created The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the most stolen artwork of all time.