Google’s Latest Magic Editor Shows AI-perfected Fakery

    A photo of a young woman standing in front of a water fall was the basis of one of the most amazing demos that Google I/O had to offer. The app filled in the empty space left by the woman when the presenter moved her. Then they tapped the cloudy sky and it immediately changed into a more vibrant, cloudless blue. The image was transformed in a matter seconds.

    The AI-powered Magic Editor certainly lived up its name in the demo. Google has been working on this kind of tool for years. Google already has several AI-powered editing tools, such as the Magic Eraser that allows you to quickly remove objects or people from an image’s background. This tool allows you to alter the content — and possibly the meaning — in a photograph. The Magic editor transforms the picture in seconds.

    Google’s goal for this tool, which is not perfect and has no release date yet, is to make it as simple as dragging or tapping on your screen. The tool is marketed as a “way to make complex edits without professional editing tools,” which allows you to use AI to select and transform a specific portion of your image. This includes the ability for you to enhance the sky and move or scale your subjects. You can also remove portions of the image by using just a few clicks.

    Google’s Magic Editor tries to combine all the steps required to edit similar images in Photoshop into one tap. Or, at least that’s how it appears from the demo. You can’t use the Content-Aware Move Tool (or another method of your choosing) in Photoshop to move an object within an image. You may still find that the image is not quite what you want. In this case, you will need to use other tools like the Clone Stamp or Spot Healing Brush to correct any artifacts, or mismatched backgrounds. The process is not difficult, but there is a learning curve, as with any professional tool.

    Google should make photo editing software more accessible and free. Photoshop and other image editing programs are costly and not intuitive. Google Photos’ powerful, yet easy-to use image editing tools could change the way people edit and view photos. Google’s image editing tools are bringing us closer to the world where every photo is edited to perfection, whether it is real or not.

    Samsung has recently highlighted the power AI-“enhanced photos” with “Space Zoom,” an feature designed to capture amazing pictures of the Moon using newer Galaxy devices. A Reddit user in March found that Samsung added craters to an image of the Moon that was almost unsalvageable. This not only puts at risk of creating a “fake image” of the Moon but also leaves the actual space photographers stranded, since they have spent years perfecting the art to capture the night sky.

    To be fair, there are a ton of similar photography-enhancing features that are built in to smartphone cameras. My colleague Allison Johnson pointed out that mobile photography fakes many things. Whether it’s applying filters or unblurring photos, doctored pictures are nothing new. Google’s Magic Editor may make more realistic fakery more appealing. Google’s blog post explaining makes it appear that we are all on the quest for perfection. It notes that the Magic Editor gives you “more control over your final look and feeling of your photo”, while also giving you the opportunity to correct a missed chance that would have made a photo look at its best.

    You can call me a weird purist but I don’t like editing photos in a manner that alters my memory of a particular event. When I took a photo of a wedding, and the sky was overcast, I would not consider changing it to something else. I may — just or — consider moving objects around, or boosting the sky in a photo I post on social media. But even this seems disingenuous. That’s me. I could see many people using Magic Editor to enhance their photos to be used on social media. This adds to the discussion of what we should call a photograph and whether people should have to disclose this information.

    Google describes its Magic Editor as “experimental” technology that will be available on “selected” Pixel phones in the second half of this year, before being rolled out to all other users. Google has already added AI-powered editing tools to Photos. It’s only a question of time until smartphone manufacturers integrate these tools directly into their camera software. The beauty of a photograph can be found in its imperfections. Smartphone makers seem to be trying to move us further and further away from this idea.

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