Why not, we guess?
A Most Peculiar Camera
If you haven't heard, Instagram is over — and with it, apparently, is the concept of a camera itself. Meet Paragraphica, a lensless "camera" that uses location data and various AI tools to generate imagery, instead of old-fashioned, uh, photons.
"Paragraphica is a camera that utilizes location data and artificial intelligence to visualize a 'photo' of a specific place and moment," reads the project's webpage. "The camera displays a description of your current location, utilizing the address, weather, time of day, and nearby places."
"When pressing the trigger," it continues, "the camera will create a photographic representation of it using a text-to-image AI."
If Susan Sontag said that regular photographs are a way of imprisoning reality, we can't even begin to imagine what she'd have to say about this thing. Honestly, though, considering how omnipresent cameras — and with those cameras, image-driven social media and algorithm-powered feeds — have been in our lives for the past decade-plus, Paragraphica kind of makes sense as the natural penance.
Introducing – Paragraphica! 📡📷
A camera that takes photos using location data. It describes the place you are at and then converts it into an AI-generated "photo".
— Bjørn Karmann (@BjoernKarmann) May 30, 2023
If you, of course, find yourself asking "but why?" its creator Bjørn Karmann, a designer in the Netherlands, has an answer.
"As AI models are increasingly becoming conscious, it will be hard to imagine how they might see our physical world," he wrote on the project's site. "The camera offers a way of experiencing the world around us, one that is not limited to visual perception alone."
"Paragraphica' provides deeper insight," he adds, "into the essence of a moment through the perspective of other intelligences."
Conscious is a strong — and some might say both misguided and incorrect — word to use for an amalgamation of various generative AI tools, but we digress. Karmann further compares his invention to a star-nosed mole; rather than seeing by way of light, as humans — and our conventional cameras — do, these underground moles "see" by way of snout antennae (hence the antennae-like design seen on the camera's lens.)
By the designer's metaphor, then, Paragraphica offers humans a chance to "see" as an AI program does. But to that end, it could well be argued that Paragraphica, which uses APIs trained on eye-watering amounts of human-generated content, isn't seeing or understanding for itself — instead, it's just spitting a mimicry of human perception right back at us.
To his credit, though, Karmann did clarify in a Twitter thread that his creation is simply a "passion art project," further noting that he has "no intention of making a product or challenging photography."
"Rather," he added, "it's questioning the role of AI in a time of creative tension."
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