Keeping the Human Touch in the Age of A.I.

As photographers, videographers, and visual creatives, storytelling is a powerful tool in the humanitarian sphere for creating empathy and understanding towards the experiences of those affected by conflict, poverty, and natural disasters. I am seeing more and more A.I. content appear through my social media feeds, and hear comments like my sci-fi-loving wife saying, “This is how every bad sci-fi story begins…” As a photographer and storyteller myself, I am intrigued by the possibilities and potential of A.I. in my work. With the seemingly unlimited possibilities arise questions like: How does the ever-growing use of A.I. content creation fit into my storytelling process? Can I keep the human touch in my work, or am I destined to lose it in the process? Can I use A.I. without losing the humanity of my stories? Can A.I. technology positively assist me in the creation of captivating, thought-provoking, and meaningful stories?

Education in Kinshasa DRC. Client: Malembe Rise

What is A.I. technology?

A.I. is everywhere right now, especially the meteoric rise of tools like ChatGPT & MidJourney. I mean, 13 million unique ChatGPT visitors per day in January 2023 is not a small number! A.I., or artificial intelligence, is the development of computer systems that can perform tasks that would typically (or traditionally) require human intelligence. These tasks can include speech recognition, decision-making, and visual perception. Simply put, A.I. works through a process called machine learning, which involves training a computer program using large amounts of data to identify patterns and make predictions or decisions based on that data.

A.I. can be a powerful tool to help you quickly analyze and understand large amounts of visual data. For example, imagine you are working on a project to document the living conditions of refugees in an IDP camp. You come away with thousands of photos, but it would take you days or even weeks to review them all manually.

A.I. can help you by using algorithms to analyze this collection of images and identify key features and patterns. For example, it could identify which photos show overcrowded living conditions or poor sanitation facilities. This can help you quickly identify areas of concern and prioritize your photo editing and selection process to successfully target your communication campaigns.

An AI generated image of a crisis scene

Why should we care?

The concern for many communicators is that AI technology could replace the human connection and emotion that is so important in our storytelling. This, I believe, is at the heart of the conversation right now. With the advancement and accessibility of AI technology, generated images and stories are a quick, efficient, and cost-effective way to communicate issues, while they can avoid any potential harm that can come from exploiting real people and their stories. However, if a story is generated, is it real? As communicators and storytellers, we know the power and value in a person’s authentic story. Using real people and real stories, we know from our experiences, will provide an authentic and compelling representation of a situation and help to raise awareness and inspire action in a way that, I believe, generated content will struggle to do. Stakeholders are looking for genuine stories of the work we do and not artificially generated stories about the work we do. They trust us to portray a true representation of our work. Ultimately, we must consider the ethical implications of both the traditional and AI-driven approach to content. How does our storytelling ensure that the dignity and well-being of the people affected by humanitarian crises are always at the forefront of any and all of our communication strategies?

When I take a person’s portrait, or photograph conditions in an IDP camp, or sit in on a medical checkup with a remote healthcare provider, it is the connection, trust, and relationship that is formed personally that allows me to create truly captivating images of those affected by the situations that I cover. This connection can only be found by taking the time and effort to be there with those people.

Maternity clinic in the Ituri Province of DRC. Client: Medair

As humanitarian storytellers, we must connect people with the human experience. It is crucial to incorporate the human element in our storytelling by building meaningful relationships with those affected by crises. This involves listening to their stories and respecting their lived experiences. Without this approach, we risk overlooking the very people we aim to serve, undermining their dignity, and diminishing our own humanity.

In our industry, a significant challenge we face is how to capture the attention and concern of people who are not directly affected by the issues we cover. It is all too common for people to disregard crises that do not impact them on a daily basis. Out of sight, out of mind is an ever too real problem. Generating content about a situation gives people an even bigger reason to say “Why should I care?” and we all know we don’t need to give them any more reasons to ask that question! When we create content, we must consider how we can engage our audience in the human story behind the issue.

Despite the technological advancements that we have at our disposal, AI cannot replace the importance of human connection and empathy. However, I believe it can add to our work and help us to improve the way and the stories that we communicate.

Making A.I work for you

One of the main ways AI technology can assist storytellers is through data analysis. AI can analyze vast amounts of data, such as social media posts, news articles, and satellite imagery, to provide insights into the experiences of those affected by conflict and disaster. This data gives us a better understanding of the issues and can be used to create more impactful and effective storytelling. Imagine having a much bigger, broader, and fuller understanding of the situation when responding to a crisis?

AI technology can help us as photographers and videographers to capture more powerful and emotionally resonant images and videos. Having the ability to focus on capturing the human element of the story, while AI assists in the technical aspects of our stories, will no doubt improve the content we deliver.

Content creation is one of the key areas where AI can have a significant impact on our communication. One use case for AI-generated content is in the creation of 3D models of disaster-affected areas. By using satellite imagery and other data sources, AI algorithms can create detailed models of the affected areas that can be used to visualize the extent of damage and help aid organizations to plan and prioritize their response efforts. This type of content can help communicate the scale and severity of a crisis in a way that traditional photography or videography may not be able to capture.

AI can also create realistic simulations of humanitarian scenarios. For example, AI-generated videos can simulate a natural disaster, allowing people to experience the event as if they were there. This type of content can help people better understand the impact of humanitarian crises and inspire action and engagement.

Now what?

While AI-generated content may not always be able to capture the emotional depth and nuance of real human experience as we can as photographers, videographers, and storytellers, it is already and will be an increasingly valuable tool for us to have in our toolbox. At the end of the day, our purpose is to raise awareness and advocate for vulnerable people and communities. By capturing and sharing powerful images and stories, we can connect people with the stories of those impacted by conflict, displacement, poverty, and injustice, humanizing complex issues and bringing attention to the lived experiences of those affected. By utilizing AI technology in our work without losing our humanity, I believe we can create even more impactful and powerful storytelling.

A shipment of humanitarian Aid on its way to Ukraine. Client: Hoffnung

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