The results of the Shutterstock AI test.

The results of the Shutterstock AI test.

If you read the technology or business sections of major media, you can’t help but have noticed the legions of articles about the new generation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools recently launched.

There have been many expert reviews written about them. For the full-on analysis, follow Andrew Bruce Smith and Stephen Waddington.

This blog will be about my first impressions of four of the free/cheap information Search and image-generation tools available to all and simple to use: in Search – Bing AI Chat and Google Bard; in Image Generation – New Bing AI Image Generator and Shutterstock AI Image Generator.

Search: Bing AI Chat v Google Bard

Bing AI Chat can be accessed by anyone with a Microsoft account (you have one if you use any Microsoft devices or software) by requesting access to the new version of Bing, its search engine. Last week it sent out invitations to try it to users, so just click the link and follow the instructions.

Once in, on the right bar you’ll see the new Bing icon top right. Click on it and hit Chat. You can select the ‘tone’ of its answers – from Creative to Balanced and Precise. I chose Precise.

Google’s chat-interface search engine Bard is technically still an “experiment” (i.e. in Beta), but it’s given anyone with a Google Account access if they apply.

The Test

My test was to conduct the same searches for a client using first Bing AI Chat and then Google Bard. I was looking for ideas for people to involve in a future project. Here’s what I found.

  • Bing AI Chat is more likely to say it can’t find anything which matches your query
  • I like that Bing AI Chat gives links to its sources. And you can click a link to share the question and answer.
  • Google Bard is more likely to come up with a bizarrely inaccurate result – twice it told me Nicola Sturgeon was a retired sportsperson. And if it can’t give a direct answer, it will give general advice. It also allows you to copy the question and answer.
  • In Bard, I like the ‘View other drafts’, ‘Google it’ buttons and ‘Bard activity’ history options.

New Bing AI Image Generator v Shutterstock AI Image Generator

One of the most exciting/scary (depending on where you’re sitting) developments is the new generation of image-generating AI tools.

I’ll spare you the technical details, but essentially they’ve been shown (“trained on”) images of things and people on the Internet and told what they are. You then type in a description of an image you’d like and it will use those ‘samples’ to create a brand new one fitting your description.

Legal and ethical considerations

There are potential legal and immediate ethical considerations with these. The legal one is what images each tool has been trained on – did the creator get legal permission to sample copyrighted images? There are legal cases in the US on this already.

Even if a stock photo library licensed the images it has for this, were the original creators (and therefore copyright holders) given a reasonable process and time period to opt their held images out of this before ‘training’ began if they wanted to do that? Some say they weren’t.

Morally, how do you and your company feel about potentially replacing paying for stock images by making your own and the consequences for professional photographers who rely on stock images as an income stream?

Professional photographers have come under increasing financial pressure because rates paid for marketing and PR photos have come down, rates for ‘social photography’ (weddings, new baby shoots etc) have plummeted as a result of amateurs charging cheaper rates to earn spare cash at weekends and prices paid for stock images have also dropped significantly.

The Test

I gave the New Bing AI Image Generator (on right of the Bing bar) and Shutterstock AI Image Generator a simple ‘real world’ Marketing/PR/Social task – I wanted to try to make an image to illustrate a future blog and social post on getting away from the tired cheque presentation photo in media relations. Below are the results from my search for ‘Cheque presentation by Middle-aged people to 30s woman all smiling and looking at camera’

Shutterstock AI Image Generator

In the first image (not shown) everyone was South Asian for some reason, so I changed the prompt to specify Caucasian and got the following set of options.

The results of the Shutterstock AI test.

The results of the Shutterstock AI test.

Not bad, but it has a real issue with details around eyes. Distractingly bad, in my view. This could maybe be improved with further prompt refinement e.g. currency of the cheque to be specified.

New Bing AI Image Generator

I input the amended prompt and got the images below.

I found this generally better at first attempt, but it also had an issue with eye details and look at the literally black lips of the man on the left of one. The training set is probably different.

Images generated by the New Bing Image Generator.

Images generated by the New Bing Image Generator.

Summary – you may spend some time working on refining your prompt to get something genuinely as realistic as a current stock shot.

I’ve seen results from other image generators which are much more photo-realistic (e.g. Midjourney v5). Scarily so – look at the fake Trump being arrested ones circulating on social and how many people are being fooled by them.

N.B. Microsoft has included limits on what can be generated by New Bing AI Image Generator – anything sounding like it might be for pornography or to replicate a real person will bring up a warning that it won’t be created and if you keep trying you’ll have access removed.

So far, I don’t see these being a better option for anyone needing glitch-free marketing images of real life really quickly. For non-famous people, you’ll still need to shoot the image for real.

So for now there’s still something professional photographers are needed for. A good one will also help you improve your idea and then realise it.

Meantime, if you want a fantasy image, they’re a great tool. Look at what Renata Fernandes has created already.

Do try these new tools yourself – to see how they can help you.