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The controversial history of colorizing black-and-white photographs

The ethical dimensions of artificial intelligence (AI) image colorization were recently brought to public attention when several historical images were altered using digital algorithms.

Irish artist Matt Loughrey digitally colorized and added smiles to photos of tortured prisoners from Security Prison 21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which was used by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to ’79. His photos were published in Vice and prompted outrage on Twitter.

Vice removed the altered photos from their website and apologized to the families of the victims and the communities in Cambodia. Meanwhile, the Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick described them as “thoughtless, ahistorical and self-congratulatory” and proclaimed that we must stop trusting photography.

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