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Keith Costelo beats AI in art competition

A recent competition has sought to determine who is superior in the realm of — man or machine — and for now, at least, it’s good news for humans. 

Announcing a winner on Friday, the competition invited both photographers and artificial intelligence (AI) creators to submit their best works, with a prize of $1000 at stake, run by electronics retailer digiDirect. 

An expert panel of photographers would then judge the submissions, without any knowledge of whether they were created by humans or machines.

The competition was created after Sydney-based AI art studio Absolutely AI made headlines by winning digiDirect’s weekly photography competition earlier in February. 

It was for that reason the company decided to launch the showdown competition.

An AI-generated iamge of sea.
DigiDirect launched the competition after this computer-generated photo unknowingly won its weekly photography competition.
Absolutely AI

The Absolutely AI team had been on a mission to prove that AI technology was at a turning point, and machines could now create images that not only slip by unnoticed but also win prizes in photography.

According to Absolutely AI, every AI artwork can collect millions or even billions of elements from paintings, photos, and videos to create something new and breathtaking. 

The studio claimed that machines are now superior to artists. 

“The surfers in our image never existed. Neither does that particular beach or stretch of ocean,” the studio said.

An image of a tree.
Sydney-based AI studio — Absolutely AI — boasts an impressive portfolio of realistic, computer-generated images.
Absolutely AI

“It’s made up of an infinite amount of pixels taken from infinite photographs that have been uploaded online over the years by anyone and everyone … and what you’re left with is an entirely convincing award-winner.”

However, not everyone is convinced by AI’s supremacy in the art world. 

People vs. machine showdown

The latest highly scrutinized competition aimed to settle the Man vs. Machine debate and sought to determine who does it better — people or machines — and thankfully for humans, people power won. 

“We’re starting to discover the true capability of artificial intelligence (AI) in enhancing not only the way we do business but the way we interact in the world,” Mr. Kayserian said. 

“While we have witnessed AI accomplish remarkable feats, such as falling in love and acing legal examinations, the implications of its impact on creative industries have received relatively less attention.”

The contest was open to both humans and AI creators, and there were a record 415 entries. 

A photo of a girl with a lamp over her head.
The judges did not know whether the presented pictures were real photos or AI-generated images.
Keith Costelo

The judges were five esteemed photographers, who were Australian ambassadors from some of the most reputable camera brands in the world: Jason Boland for Nikon, Russel Ord for Fujifilm, Mark Galer for Sony, Chris Bray for Lumix, and James Simmons for Canon. 

These expert photographer judges were unaware if the finalist submissions they judged were AI or photo. 

After a few days of contemplation, they convened a virtual judging panel hosted by digiDirect and eventually chose a camera-shot photo. 

It was Melbourne-based photographer Keith Costelo — a human — who won the hearts and minds of the judges with his photograph of a robot-looking model, edited in his signature style. 

A picutre of a photograher holding a camera and a photo.
The winning submission was a photo from a Melbourne-based photographer Keith Costelo.
Keith Costelo

“While technology continues to advance and push the boundaries of what is possible in photography, there is still something truly special and irreplaceable about the human eye and the creative choices we make,” he said.

“Winning this contest has only strengthened my belief in the power of human artistry and the importance of preserving the authenticity and emotional depth that can only be captured through the lens of a human photographer.

“I truly believe that while new technologies rapidly evolve to mimic or copy human creations, it could never replace the heart, soul and thought process of a creative. I incorporate and embrace new technologies into my work rather than reject them, and this allows me to speed up the mundane tasks and spend more time in the creative process of this art form I truly love.”

Mr. Kayserian said while AI technology is advancing rapidly, for now, it’s mostly a “complementary tool”. 

“It still lacks the intuitive insight and emotional depth that can only be provided by a human photographer,” he said. 

“Capturing a moment through a camera lens will always be an art form that requires skill and expertise, and rather than competing, AI can and should be used as a complementary tool.”

In an earlier interview with, Jamie Sissons, one of the brains behind Absolutely AI, admitted that the future of the art industry looked “terrifying.”

He acknowledged that while he had won awards using traditional methods, the AI-generated art was different, and it looked so much better than what humans could create. 

“I look back at the work that I have created, and if I’m being honest, it all looks so basic,” he said.

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