AI art generator vs humans – the battle is on in photo contest

Ai generated image of a human and a robot in human form facing towards each other
(Image credit: Future | Created using an AI image generator)

AI has been making a lot of headlines recently, and not just in the form of ChatGPT – an AI-generated ‘aerial photo’ of surfers on a sun-kissed beach created by Absolutely Ai (see below), fooled judges to win a photography contest organized by an Australian camera retailer.

Red-faced at being taken in by an AI-generated image, the retailer, digiDirect, reallocated the prize to a human entrant, and has now upped the ante by announcing a new photo contest that will accept both entries from photographers and images created by AI, which it hopes “will settle the man vs machine, or photo vs image, debate, on a level playing field.”

The one-off human vs machine photo contest has no theme and is already underway, with both entries being accepted until February 26.

What’s unique about this contest is that the judging panel – made up of several high-profile Australia-based professional photographers – are not privy to whether the images they’re looking at are photos of real subjects, taken by a human using a camera, or have been created by a human prompting an AI art generator. 

Drone shot of a beach at sunrise with waves crashing around two surfers

(Image credit: Absolutely AI)

Can an AI art generator win again?

The triumph of AI in a photo contest serves as a reminder of just how powerful AI art generators are becoming – and not just when it comes to churning out weird and wacky images like those produced by Dall-E, at which they’re already frighteningly effective – but for creating highly convincing photo-realistic results. 

Out of curiosity, I’ve used some of the leading AI art generators in a bid to create realistic photos – including Midjourney’s Discord app, which is the tool Absolutely Ai used – and it’s not as easy as you might think. 

Look closer, and the cracks in AI images appear. When I spoke with Jamie Sissons, the founder of Absolutely Ai and creator of that winning image, he said, “it is a convincing image because no one had the reason to think otherwise.” 

Now, however, AI will be very much in the spotlight, and it feels like there’s less of a level playing field in the context of a photo contest, with the judges tipped off and scrutinizing images for evidence of AI input, and I’d be highly surprised if an AI image was to win again. 

The original contest provoked a backlash from within the photography community towards AI art generators, which are perceived as the latest technological threat to humans trying to earn a living in the creative industries – and I’m sure many people, whether they’re photographers or not, will be rooting for a human victor, even if the result doesn’t settle the human vs AI debate once and for all.

Whoever – or whatever – wins, I really hope that the contest attracts lots of engagement from both photographers and their would-be AI rivals, and I can't wait to see the outcome. 

Timothy Coleman
Cameras editor

Tim is the Cameras editor at TechRadar. He has enjoyed more than 15 years in the photo video industry with most of those in the world of tech journalism. During his time as Deputy Technical Editor with Amateur Photographer, as a freelancer and consequently editor at Tech Radar, Tim has developed a deeply technical knowledge and practical experience with cameras, educating others through news, reviews and features. He’s also worked in video production for Studio 44 with clients including Canon, and volunteers his spare time to consult a non-profit, diverse stories team based in Nairobi. Tim is curious, a keen creative, avid footballer and runner, and moderate flat white drinker who has lived in Kenya and believes we have much to enjoy and learn from each other.