The Real Scandal of AI: Awful Stock Photos

There’s been a lot of talk recently about whether or not AI research is in a bubble. Some people are worried that we’re approaching another AI winter — a period where AI research funding dries up if AI can’t deliver on the hype.

Sure, there is a lot hype and bad reporting around AI. Just look at all the news reports calling Sophia the “first AI citizen” when it’s really just a weird puppet head hooked up to a chat bot:

Spoiler: No, it can’t.

But even if the recent advancements in Deep Learning aren’t really intelligence per se and don’t get us closer to Strong AI, deep learning has definitely made an impact. It’s led to huge advancements in real products the help real people every day, like Google Translate:

So let’s not argue about whether or not we are in an AI bubble. Instead, let’s focus on an even more important issue that we can all get behind — the absolutely atrocious stock photos used in almost every single news story about AI.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Is an exploding head a good thing or a bad thing? Not 100% sure.

It seems like every article on AI has a picture like this — just a glowing head overflowing with the power of computers.

I guess part of the problem is that stories without pictures are boring and it’s really hard to illustrate the idea of AI. So they have to throw in something.

But there has to be a better illustration than a robot finger poking at a keyboard:

The entire history of humanity has resulted in this — a robot that can press the space bar

Another popular approach is to dig up a generic 3D model of an android from 1998 and paste it over a circuit board:

Did you know that his robot can think? In case it wasn’t clear, we tossed in a picture of a brain and the words “artificial intelligence”.

To be fair, I bet this kind of design work isn’t much fun for the graphics team either. I imagine designers staring blankly at their computers for for hours trying to think of the 400th way to illustrate “AI”.

But you can tell a designer is really phoning it in when they literally paste a bootleg Adobe Illustrator icon on top of a picture of an iPad, add a glowing ET finger and call it a day:

Forbes.com, a professional news organization, posted this graphic.

The AI stock photo disease has reached epidemic status. Just do a search for “AI” on Google News and you’ll see what I mean:

I love shaking hands with robots. They are all so intelligent these days!

But like any epidemic, there must be a patient zero, right? My best guess is noted ML pioneer Andrew Ng. He’s done a lot in his career. Not only did he found Google Brain, but he’s done more than probably anyone else to educate programmers on how machine learning works. By all accounts, he’s a really great guy.

But he’s also responsible for popularizing Machine Learning with this graphic:

And as a result, we now we live in a world where googling the word “AI” looks like this:

I think it’s time we all take a stand. It’s time we stop letting the media get away with this. No more glowing circuit boards. No more robots shaking hands. No more nonsense circuit boards with “AI” written on top of them.

Or can we — at the very least — start using photos of the best android in existence?

So if you are one of those poor, unfortunate graphic designers stuck illustrating AI, go ahead and take the rest of the day off — here’s a free one on me:


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