Currently isolated with my first bout of covid, to pass the time I have been reading various articles relating to developments in photographic technology (and playing with Affinity Photo). To say that some of them were more than a little taxing to my 84 year old grey matter is a major understatement. The number of obscure terms used is mind boggling. But it made me stop and reflect on what I have seen and experienced in my 70 years enjoying making photographic images. In the later years in employment I was manager of a department of technical types, used to working with absolutes, no ifs and buts. I remember a great deal of my time was devoted to helping people accept necessary changes to their working world, some good and some less so. The thing to remember is that change is always with us whatever, and what really matters is how we react to it and embrace it. I remember one guy who used to say that all he wanted was to come to work, do his job and go home. I gather he later took on my old job so he really met it head on.
The latest hot topic, of course, is the inexorable rise of artificial intelligence, AI for short, as applied to the computer and, therefore, digital imaging among many other things. There were several very relevant points made in the comments sections of the articles I read but some that were quite biased and negative. Inevitable I suppose when mankind is considered as a whole. My favourite author, Sir Terry Pratchett, writes in one of his novels that, when two Discworld dwarfs discuss something, the result will be three different opinions. I think that sums it up admirably in general.
One of the more positive comments stuck in my mind, suggesting that, back in the 19th century, glass plate users would have been very resistant to the new-fangled roll films, a good example of the immediate resistance to new things that seems inevitable. It is understandable in that case because film plane flatness must have been crucial when emulsions were so slow. Large aperture on longish focus lenses plus wobbly register equalled poor result. This kind of practical concern is often at the root of initial resistance.
But why not question new things? It must be a good thing that new ideas and innovations are scrutinised and tested in this way. That is the way of science after all. Even governments are now seriously considering how to control AI. This is the same as, but on a much larger stage than, for example, the way the press and competition sponsors have reacted to manipulated images. A workable solution will always be found eventually.
This line of thought took me to considering how photography has benefited mankind in almost every aspect of everyday life in one way or another. One invention/innovation came to mind which has been a major foundation stone of digital technology, namely the IC, or integrated circuit. In the late 1960’s I visited a Texas Instruments facility and was shown how some of the earliest ICs were produced. They were carefully drawn out, by hand, then photographed onto film before being reduced and duplicated for transfer layer by layer onto the material used to make the early chips. These replaced cumbersome circuit boards with their numerous, seperate components soldered together which in turn had replaced the glass valves. And just look at what that has led to.
Medicine and many other aspects of life have been massively helped by the advances made in computer technology. In fact, very little today is not in some way the result of or dependent upon the computer in some way or another. A bit like an expanding network spread right across life, starting with digital watches and calculators and leading to, currently, AI, autonomous vehicles and all the rest, good and bad. With much more to come I am in no doubt.
So perhaps we should adopt the approach that was intended to be taken by the British in the event of an invasion in WW II and just ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’, but responsibly. It all comes out in the wash after all, something that could be a quote by Lobsang, History monk, from the teachings of the Way of Mrs Cosmopolite. (If this means nothing, I heartily recommend the Discworld novels to you. That one is Thief of Time.)
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