AI work sparks fierce debate after winning photo award

A German artist has sparked an angry row after winning a prestigious photography prize with an entry that was generated by artificial intelligence.

Boris Eldagsen eventually rejected the gong from the Sony World Photography Awards after concluding that such competitions were not yet equipped to handle AI entries.

The awards organisers initially accused the artist of “misleading” behaviour, but removed the accusation from a later statement after a furious reply from Eldagsen on Tuesday.

Many photographers and artists fear their livelihoods are under threat from AI tools that allow anyone to create striking images with just a quick text prompt.

The rapid rise of AI image generators has already sparked legal cases, as the tools are “trained” on a vast number of images — many of which could be copyright protected.

Last year, an AI-generated artwork won a prize at the Colorado State Fair, prompting soul-searching in the art world.

Sony World Photography Awards announced Eldagsen’s entry — a sepia-toned image of two women entitled “Pseudomnesia: The Electrician” — as the winner of its creative category in mid-March.

Eldagsen gave interviews at the time explaining how he had made the work and saying he wanted to spark a debate over AI.

However, he wrote last week that “AI images and photography should not compete with each other in an award like this” and rejected the prize.

“I applied as a cheeky monkey, to find out if the competitions are prepared for AI images to enter. They are not,” he wrote.

The awards body said in its initial response that it had been looking forward to engaging the artist in a discussion about AI but had withdrawn the work “in keeping with his wishes”.

Its statement added: “Given his actions and subsequent statement noting his deliberate attempts at misleading us, and therefore invalidating the warranties he provided, we no longer feel we are able to engage in a meaningful and constructive dialogue with him.”

But Eldagsen wrote on his website that it was “nonsense” to suggest the awards body had been willing to engage.

“They had so many options to use this for good. They used none of them,” he wrote, accusing them of ignoring questions from the media and other photographers.

The organisers later sent an edited version of the statement to AFP removing the accusation that they had been misled but insisting they had been prepared to engage with Eldagsen and the AI debate. — Agence France-Presse

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