Artificial Intelligence has been something that's interested me for years. When I was studying medicine, I wrote a paper about how we would potentially care and treat robots in psychiatric settings if they'd developed self awareness and had been classed as "life", in a similar way to humans. Of course if you imagine a robot with self awareness, the ability to feel complex emotions and the ability to feel pain it becomes more difficult to classify what "life" actually is.
While that may sound like it's a long way away - and some kind of dystopian fantasy - robots with some level of self awareness already exist. And of course robots who can perform automation jobs already exist and have done for a while.
I recently attended a conference where I heard Volker Hirsch talk about AI, data and how robots will affect work. With so many jobs potentially at risk, why couldn't wedding photography be one of those?
In 2002, the BBC were already writing about wedding photography being in danger because of one little robot called Lewis who they describe as looking like an "upside down dustbin". I'd like to think I'm winning in the style stakes, but who knows how fashionable robots have got in the last fifteen years? Lewis has been built to identify skin, and using the method of following the rule of thirds, Lewis can frame photographs and create images that are nice to look at. So nice to look at in fact that when people viewed his portfolio, most of his images were classed as "good" or "very good". The team also identified that people feel less self conscious in front of a robot, so Lewis was able to take brilliant candid photos.
Reassuringly for wedding photographers, Lewis was built to examine the way humans and robots interact, not to necessarily be an amazing photographer. By choosing the application of photography, this was something that was easy for the general public to understand and be involved with.
Why would a robot be a good wedding photographer?
We can't get away from the fact that a robot would be efficient. Incredibly so. Humans have good and bad days, more productive days and days where productivity hovers around zero. A robot would remove the need for rest periods. A robot wedding photographer wouldn't make as many (if any) mistakes. In the case of Lewis, it's been proven that people tend to feel more relaxed around a robot taking their photo. Perhaps the adjustment period for getting used to a robot taking your photos would be shorter than I imagined!
Why would a robot be a bad wedding photographer?
It's all very well that robots follow the rule of thirds, but the rule of thirds is simply a base for creative photographers to work from. There's no denying that robots have (potentially) unlimited potential, where they could grow and learn how to be more creative, but currently just following the rule of thirds wouldn't make for particularly exciting photos. There's so much more to it, particularly with wedding photography; the need for narrative and storytelling in documentary wedding photography is huge.
There's also the issue of whether a robot photographer would be able to incorporate some of the human elements of wedding photography. As well as a wedding photographer, I've been an organiser, a dress fixer, a babysitter, a translator - how well would a robot cope with the idea of calming down the bride/groom before the ceremony or navigating tricky family politics?
Most of my couples come to me because they love the fact I incorporate film photography too - Polaroids, 35mm and 120 film. A robot would view these methods of photography as incredibly inefficient, so would it remove the process of film photography altogether in favour of 100% digital?
Robots can learn quickly and worryingly, I'm sure they could learn to navigate some of the issues listed above. Listening to Volker Hirsch talk about what robots can't do has given me some hope. He suggested they can't express passion, and passion is something that I feel every good wedding photographer has and this comes across in their work. He also said a robot can't express mindfulness, creativity and critical thought. However, if a robot can "fake" these emotions and states, does the human element become redundant if the clients are getting the same experience, albeit with a robot?
Let's not forget that a robot has a library of millions and millions of wedding photos to reference and could potentially adjust its style for different couples - negating the need for different wedding photographers.
Currently, I'm not sure that robots are advanced enough in their social skills and understanding of emotions and understanding which moments are important to humans to capture. But I'm sure they'll learn and I have no doubt they currently are.