Google’s New Magic Editor Pushes Us Into AI-Perfected Forgery

One of the most impressive Google I/O demos started with a photo of a woman in front of a waterfall. A presenter on stage touched the woman, picked her up and moved her to the other side of the image, with the app automatically filling in the space where she once stood. They then tapped on the cloudy sky, and it instantly blossomed into a brighter, cloudless blue. Within seconds, the image had been transformed.

The AI-powered tool, dubbed the Magic Editor, certainly lived up to its name during the demo. It’s the kind of tool that Google has been developing for years. It already has a couple of AI-powered image editing features in its arsenal, including Magic Eraser, which lets you quickly remove people or objects from the background of an image. But this type of tool improves things by allowing you to alter the content, and potentially, the meaning, of a photo in much more meaningful ways.

The Magic Editor transforms the photo in seconds.
GIF: Google

While it’s clear this tool isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t yet have a firm release date, Google’s ultimate goal is clear: to make perfecting photos as easy as tapping or dragging something on the screen. The company markets the tool as a way to “perform complex edits without professional-level editing tools,” allowing you to harness the power of AI to select and transform a part of your photo. That includes the ability to enhance the sky, move and scale subjects, as well as remove parts of an image with just a few taps.

Google’s Magic Editor tries to pack all the steps required to perform similar edits in a program like Photoshop into a single tap—or, at least, that’s what it sounds like in the demo. In Photoshop, for example, you’re stuck using the Content-Aware Move tool (or any of your other methods of choice) to pick up and move a subject within an image. Even then, the photo still might not look quite right, which means you’ll need to choose other tools, like the Clone Stamp Tool or maybe even the Spot Healing Brush, to fix any leftover artifacts or a background that doesn’t work. match. It’s not the most complicated process ever, but as with most professional creative tools, there’s a definite learning curve for people new to the program.

I’m all for Google making photo-editing tools free and more accessible, since Photoshop and some of the other image-editing apps out there are expensive and pretty unintuitive. But putting powerful and incredibly easy-to-use image-editing tools in the hands of nearly everyone who downloads Google Photos could transform the way we edit and look at photos. There have long been discussions about how far a photo can be edited before it’s no longer a photo, and Google’s tools bring us closer to a world where we touch every image to perfect it, whether it’s real or not.

Samsung recently called attention to the power of AI “enhanced” photos with “Space Zoom,” a feature that’s supposed to let you capture incredible images of the Moon on newer Galaxy devices. In March, a Reddit user tried to use Space Zoom on a nearly unsalvageable image of the Moon and found that Samsung seemed to add craters and other patches that weren’t actually there. Not only does this risk creating a “fake” image of the Moon, but it also leaves actual space photographers in a strange place, spending years mastering the art of capturing the night sky, only for the public to see. often be presented with fakes.

A sequence of edits with Google’s Magic Editor.
Image: Google

To be fair, there are plenty of similar photography-enhancing features built into smartphone cameras. As my colleague Allison Johnson points out, mobile photography already fakes a lot of things, whether it’s applying filters or removing blur from a photo, and manipulated images are nothing new. But Google’s Magic Editor could make a more substantial form of counterfeiting easier and more appealing. In his blog post explaining the toolGoogle makes it sound like we’re all striving for perfection, noting that Magic Editor will give you “more control over the final look of your photo” while also giving you the opportunity to correct a missed opportunity that would make a photo look its best.

Call me some kind of weird photo purist, but I’m not a fan of editing a photo in a way that alters my memory of an event. If you were taking a wedding photo and the sky was overcast, you wouldn’t think of changing it to something better. maybe just maybe — I might consider moving things around or magnifying the sky in an image I’m posting on social media, but even that seems a bit disingenuous. But then again, that’s just me. I could still see plenty of people using Magic Editor to hone their photos for social media, adding to the larger conversation of what exactly we should consider a photo and whether that’s something people should be required to disclose.

Google calls its Magic Editor “experimental technology” that will be available for “select” Pixel phones later this year before rolling out to everyone else. If Google is already adding AI-powered image-editing tools to Photos, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before smartphone manufacturers integrate these one-tap tools, like sky replacement or the ability to move a subject, directly into a phone’s camera software. . Sometimes the beauty of a photo is its imperfection. It seems that smartphone manufacturers are trying to steer us further and further away from that idea.


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