It’s getting harder to avoid AI-generated images and text — and harder to spot them in the first place — and that’s true even on Shutterstock, one of the world’s leading providers of stock photography. Last month, Shutterstock rolled out a tool for paying users that allows them to generate AI images based on their searches, in addition to finding pre-generated AI images available in the library.
I write about climate change every day, but it’s sometimes a topic that’s hard to illustrate. Should I include a photo of a wildfire with every story? A picture of an ice-free stretch of sea? How do you best show sea level rise or hotter-than-average temperatures? The green energy transition, meanwhile, involves just a few standard images (wind turbines, solar panels) and a lot of stuff that’s pretty boring visually (electrifying buildings). We’ve covered the trials and unexpectedly sexy tribulations of finding stock images for renewable energy before, so I know that humans are perfectly capable of making weird and incomprehensible climate imagery without the help of AI.
It’s clear robots are going to take over a lot of our jobs soon — but, before that happens, we can laugh at their shortcomings and bizarre quirks. Take a stroll with me through some of the weirdest AI-generated climate images on Shutterstock.
Let’s start out with a relative success: the world’s on fire! While the art’s a little clunky and things sort of start to fall apart in the details, there’s nothing that immediately screams “a computer made this.” The description is: “Artistic image of sad earth destroyed by climate change.” Totally!
Sad Oil Country
There are quite a few images that seem to depict some sort of apocalyptic future — one that, presumably, we are on track for if we don’t keep warming under the limits set out in the Paris Agreement. This one is titled “3d image of oil country facing climate change.” I buy it!
Hot Dog Fingers
Some images start to get a little dicey. This one is labelled “3d image of food security and climate change.” Sure. OK.
While the AI may be ok at reproducing some things, it’s not very good at sensible text within images — which, given how many climate change stock photos involve people protesting and holding signs, is kind of an issue. Here, we see some sage (?) words (??) about [checks notes] clinel crnge.
Scientists say we may have just 10 years left to avert worldwide glaning.
Wind Powered By Sun
I wanted to see if the AI would have an easier time with a more concrete topic, so I plugged in the search term “renewable energy.” We got a few usable results, including this image, titled “Artistic image of renewable energy in real world.” I love how the wind turbines seem to be drawing energy from the Sun; mixing metaphors a bit, but who cares.
Here’s Sexy Wind Turbine Lady: AI Edition. She looks fun!
??? orb ???
Let’s sign off with this ominous image. Not sure what beloved (and creepy) 80s toy classic Glo Worm has to do with climate change, and I don’t think I need to know. Thanks, Shuttersrtock, for the pending nightmares.
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