Shooting the moon. It’s such a simple thing. Or it should be. I don’t go out of my way to see lunar eclipses, but I had a front row seat to yesterday’s [I forgot to post this yesterday and nobody apparently noticed…]. I could see the full moon out my office window, and I’m already well awake and into my personal work before 5:00 a.m. When it was time I went into the chilly morning air and tried to shoot the moon with my phone. It’s pitiful to watch technology struggle. The poor camera is programmed to average the incoming light and although the moon was the only source of light in the frame, it kept blurring it up, thinking, in its Artificial Intelligence way, “this guy is freezing his fingers off to take a blurred image of the semi-darkness. Yes, that’s what he’s trying to do.”
Frustrated, I went back inside for our digital camera. It wasn’t charged up and it would take quite some time to do so. Back outside I tried snapping photos as the phone tried to decide what I wanted. Yes, it focused the moon beautifully, for a half second, then decided for the fuzzy look. I had to try to shoot before it had its say. Now this wouldn’t have been a problem if my old Pentax K-1000 had some 400 ASI film in it. But it doesn’t, alas. And so I had to settle for what passes for AI appreciation of the beauty of the moon.
Artificial Intelligence can’t understand the concept of beauty, partially because it differs between individuals. Many of us think the moon lovely, that beacon of hope in an ichor sky. But why? How do we explain this in zeros and ones? Do we trust programmers’ sense of beauty? Will it define everyone else’s? No, I don’t want the ambient light averaged out. The fact that my phone camera zoomed in to sharp focus before ultimately deciding against it shows that it wasn’t a mechanical incapability. Sure, there may be instructions for photographing in the dark, but they’re not obvious standing out here and my freezing fingers can’t quite manipulate the screen with the nimbleness of the well warmed. There were definite benefits to having manual control over the photographic process. Of course, now that closet full of prints and slides awaits that mythic some day when I’ll have time to digitize them all. Why do I get the feeling that the moon isn’t the only thing being eclipsed?