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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
Creativity Squared Episode Cover Art Featuring Andy Parsons
Andy Parsons is the Senior Director of Adobe's Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), creating open technologies for verifiably authentic content. Andy has a career empowering creative professionals with innovative technologies, founding Workframe and co-founding Happify. He has spoken at SXSW, and has been quoted in publications like WIRED.

Ep7. Andy Parsons: Adobe on A.I. & Trust

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Creativity Squared Episode Cover Art Featuring Andy Parsons

Ep7. Adobe on A.I. & Trust: Understand the Urgency for Media Transparency & Ethical Generative A.I. with Andy Parsons from Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative

Building trust online and establishing authenticity, transparency, and ethical A.I. is a big task. And it’s one that Andy Parsons is tackling head-on.

Andy Parsons is the Senior Director of Adobe’s Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI), which is creating the open technologies for a future of verifiably authentic content of all kinds. Helen, your Creativity Squared host, is a proud CAI member!

With collaborators across hardware (including brands like Leica Camera!), software, publishing, and social platforms the CAI is empowering communicators, journalists, and artists with secure provenance. For consumers, this important work restores trust and transparency to the media we experience.

Throughout his career, Andy has worked to empower creative professionals with innovative technologies. Prior to joining Adobe, Andy founded Workframe (acquired in 2019), the pioneering visual project management platform for commercial architecture. Andy previously served as CTO at McKinsey Academy, McKinsey’s groundbreaking educational platform and he co-founded Happify, the world’s leading mobile platform for digital therapeutics and behavioral health.

As a keynote speaker, podcast guest, and invited expert, Andy has addressed audiences at SXSW, NAB, RightsCon, CVPR, DMLA, CEPIC, Infotagion Podcast, and FLOSS Weekly. He has been quoted in many publications including WIRED and Axios.

Andy lays out CAI’s mission to combat disinformation through verifiably authentic content. By combining standards, technology, and open source collaboration, Adobe is paving the way for a more authentic digital experience and training its own generative A.I. tools in an ethical manner.

Keep reading for some of the highlights from our conversation. Andy also drops some tantalizing teases about Adobe features in the pipeline!

The Urgent Need for Content Authenticity

At SXSW 2023, Andy spoke on a panel about the ethics of deep fakes and if they are always bad. He realizes people are bombarded with content that may be faked for creative or negative purposes. Through a combination of standards, technology, and open source, Adobe’s CAI aims to bring a level of trust so people have the ability to verify and understand what they see online. In a world full of powerful fakes, and looking ahead to worldwide and the U.S. elections in 2024, it’s crucial to define reality and ensure transparency.

“Holding a grasp on what is actually real and what is trustworthy is what the world needs, has always needed, but I would say is particularly challenged in these recent days.” 

Andy Parsons

Andy believes in the need to be careful, pay attention, and put measures in place to reduce the impact of fake media. Disinformation is nothing new but the degree to which disinformation is built and disseminated with social media and A.I. is new.

The more power that is put in creative hands, the more potential damage you put in bad actors’ hands. At Adobe, they want to empower good people to do the right thing. He believes we need to get to a place where people can click on a piece of content and know where it came from. Media without evidence of origins should be questioned. He feels the urgency to get this work done and have widespread adoption so people have digital literacy and are not fooled by fake content.

What Is The Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI)

The Content Authenticity Initiative was announced by Adobe in 2019 and is a community of media and technology companies, NGOs, creatives, educators, and others working to promote the adoption of industry standards for authenticity and provenance. It’s a group working together to fight disinformation through attribution. As of the episode recording, there were over 1,300 members including The New York Times, BBC, The Associated Press, Getty Images, Gannett, and Microsoft.

“Just like you sign a digital document or PDF, we think that media should be signed in the same way so that we can understand its origins.”

Andy Parsons

It’s about believing in the idea of provenance, which is understanding where things came from, what they are, who made them, and whether it was made by a person or artificial intelligence. How does it work? It’s effectively a way to capture a new kind of metadata that is cryptographically verifiable. For example, if something is taken on a camera, or goes through Adobe Photoshop, that technology captures critical information that is verifiably factual about how it was made. It allows for identity verification and A.I. transparency. Furthermore, Adobe built in opt-in features to their products to disclose if something was done by A.I. as they believe in transparency. It’s Adobe’s intent to empower creators with this tech and to mitigate against deep fakes by advocating for the use of Content Credentials and bringing transparency to content.

Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA)

The underlying standard and openness of all this is not an Adobe technology. That’s where the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA) comes in. The C2PA is a Joint Development Foundation project that unifies the CAI and Project Origin to collectively build an end-to-end open technical standard to provide publishers, creators, and consumers with opt-in, flexible ways to understand the authenticity and provenance of different types of media.

This non-profit body exists to write the technical standards and specifications. The work is public and it is absolutely free. Things are being built open-source to make them widely available and there’s no intellectual property or patent encumbrances. Andy encourages people to get involved! Adobe wants people to contribute and be in touch with their team so more voices are heard and we can make forward progress addressing the issues surrounding artificial intelligence.

“That’s a matter of public record effectively. So no matter where that image or video goes, you can always get back to the provenance data.”

Andy Parsons

On the technology side, Adobe has implemented their version of fingerprinting. For instance, you can take the pixels of an image, the frames of video, or the waveforms of an audio file and actually take a fingerprint like a human fingerprint. This can help uniquely identify the piece of media and know who it belongs to and where it came from, even if the metadata is stripped or lost. People can choose where they want their content stored whether it’s Adobe Cloud or a decentralized blockchain. Even if there is a mashup of artists or even a screenshot of a photo, the origin story is always there.

Adobe Firefly and Ethical Uses of Generative A.I.

Adobe wants to use generative A.I. to empower creators. Firefly is Adobe’s creative generative A.I. engine that is currently in beta. While other companies may have moved faster getting into the space, Adobe wanted to do it ethically while respecting artists’ rights and copyright ownership. They didn’t want to just move fast and break things. Adobe took their time to find the right ethical balance of providing something powerful to Creative Cloud users.

“It’s also ethical in the sense that Firefly is trained ethically. We do think we’re leading the way and doing this in the right way. We might be slower than other companies, but once you get in Photoshop and on the Firefly website, I think you’d see this reflected in the output.”

Andy Parsons

Adobe’s Firefly approach focuses on training models using licensed Adobe stock images (in addition to openly licensed and public domain images), not just crawling the internet for any piece of work. The datasets were trained in accordance to their Stock Contributor license agreement (and here’s the Stock FAQ).

It’s Adobe’s intent to build generative A.I. in a way that enables customers to monetize their talents, much like they’ve done with Stock and Behance. And they are developing a compensation model for Stock contributors and will share details in the coming weeks!

Andy mentions that generative A.I. should serve as a creative co-pilot, amplifying human potential rather than replacing individuals. 

While Adobe Firefly is currently in beta, it is unavailable for commercial use. The watermark is in place to remind beta users of this. Adobe will compensate creators once Firefly is out of beta, and the watermark will also be removed.  

“It feels good to use it because you know that you’re not impeding anyone else’s creativity or encroaching on their rights as artists. And that’s the feedback we’ve gotten loud and clear from the market…All of the images and generated material that comes from Firefly is imbued with content authenticity from the get-go. It’s built-in. ”

Andy Parsons

Andy talks about Generative Fill in Photoshop, which was recently introduced, that will allow people to amplify their creativity. Generative Fill is a “revolutionary and magical new suite of A.I.-powered capabilities grounded in your innate creativity, enabling you to add, extend, or remove content from your images non-destructively using simple text prompts. You can achieve realistic results that will surprise, delight, and astound you in seconds.”

Beyond the regular power of Photoshop, there’s this extra tool that will help generate new ideas and material to the art you’re producing. While the tools still need to mature, people can feel good about using it because you know you’re not impeding on anyone else’s creativity or encroaching on their rights as artists. Plus, all content generated through Firefly is embedded with content authenticity from the beginning.

Andy highly recommends that our community check out all the amazing content that is being created through Adobe’s tools. A quick Instagram search of #AdobeFirefly shows what people are up to along with Adobe’s official Instagram account. Be inspired, experiment, and explore how you may use generative A.I. in your own work. And on a positive note, Andy does believe more and more people will use generative A.I. ethically and produce really amazing things.

Creativity For All

Adobe’s core principle of “creativity for all” underscores their commitment to providing tools and resources for individuals to express themselves. The democratization of creativity has long been part of Adobe’s DNA, enabling users to pursue their artistic endeavors. This culture has affected the development of Firefly and other Adobe tools so individuals can confidently express themselves in a transparent and ethical manner. 

Adobe has developed a layered approach to facilitate the adoption of content credentials. The vision is that anybody who wants to implement or use content credentials should be able to do that, whether they’re in the Adobe ecosystem or not. 

It starts with open technical standards, which provide specifications and guidelines for implementation. The next layer involves open source tools, including software development kits (SDKs) for mobile platforms like iOS and Android, as well as low-level libraries for back-end services. These resources make it easier for developers to integrate content credentials into their applications. The third layer focuses on user interface components, offering pre-built open source tools that can be easily incorporated into websites or applications. 

It’s truly about collaboration and working together. For instance, Adobe partnered with industry-leading camera manufacturers, Leica and Nikon, to implement provenance technology into Leica’s iconic M11 Rangefinder and Niko’s mirrorless Z 9. Both partnerships help advance the CAI’s efforts of empowering photographers everywhere to attach provenance to their images at the point of capture, creating a chain of authenticity from camera to cloud.  It was the first time that this secure-capture technology was put into the hands of the creative community.

“We’re real people, we’re real human beings there, you can talk to us. But most importantly, it’s not just the Adobe team, it’s like hundreds of individuals who are also working to do this.”

Andy Parsons

Andy encourages developers to engage with their community through platforms like Discord, where they can exchange ideas, seek assistance, and share their experiences. The open source ecosystem surrounding content credentials fosters collaboration and enables individuals and businesses to explore various use cases beyond what Adobe initially envisioned. Collectively we can take the right step forward.

Rethinking Media Literacy

How will you know if a piece of content has the proper attributions and origin? 

Adobe’s vision includes a groundbreaking feature that aims to enhance transparency and context in digital media. By simply hovering over an image or video, users will be greeted with a distinctive trademark icon, indicating the presence of additional information. This icon, representing CTPA standards, will not pass judgment on the truthfulness of the content but will provide users with access to relevant details and context. Clicking on the icon will reveal a convenient overlay, displaying critical information such as the image or video’s signatory. The technology is not saying this piece of content is right or wrong. It’s simply providing people with additional context so they can make informed decisions. People can decide for themselves if a piece of content is trustworthy, but they need to have the information to do so. By making the icon easily recognizable and widely adopted, Adobe aims to provide users with the same level of importance and understanding as the lock symbol represents in cybersecurity. However, the next step is educating people.

“We need to rethink media literacy.”

Andy Parsons

Media literacy is a passionate topic for Andy and rightfully so. It’s a critical investment we need to make. Recently, Adobe released the first chapter of their approach to media literacy education in schools. Developed in collaboration with external partners and experts from NYU, they have created three curricula catering to middle school, high school, and upper education levels. The aim is to revamp media literacy by encouraging critical thinking, skepticism, and interrogation of media. While traditional methods of analysis are still important, the landscape has changed with the advancement of synthetic media tools. Adobe emphasizes the need to understand the capabilities of these tools and the potential for manipulation. They provide free access to their curriculum on Adobe edX, where educators can download PDFs and explore the resources. The curriculum focuses on teaching students alternative ways to scrutinize media, including using tools like Google reverse image search and verifying context before sharing information. Addressing the urgency of the matter, Adobe urges educators to adopt this curriculum and emphasizes the importance of integrating media literacy education into classrooms. 

But we also have to invest in understanding media literacy as adults. Andy is actually optimistic that some of these techniques can be effective in the hands of journalists and forward-thinking adults even within the next year when it comes to media consumption and looking ahead at the 2024 elections.

A.I. Future Predictions and Getting Involved

In terms of timeframes, Andy acknowledges the difficulty in predicting the exact timeline for broad adoption of certain technologies and concepts like media credentials and the metaverse. However, Andy expresses confidence in seeing exponential uptake, interesting use cases, and widespread adoption within the next year or two, and certainly within three years. 

Andy believes that cryptographic provenance and verification will become a standard feature for media and virtual assets, ensuring transparency and trust. While he can’t pinpoint when this will happen, Andy has hope and anticipates significant progress within the next two years, envisioning a future where conversations revolve around the next wave of adoption rather than introductory discussions.

“If you believe in some of the things we’ve talked about today, there is absolutely a way to get involved and help in some small way.”

Andy Parsons

Andy reiterates and encourages our community to actively participate in the mission of content authenticity and join the CAI. Andy acknowledges that people often wait for things to happen passively but emphasizes that in this case, there is an opportunity to contribute and make a difference. Everyone can find a way to get involved! Visit our additional links mentioned in this podcast below to connect with Andy, join CAI, and converse on Discord.

Links Mentioned in this Podcast

Continue the Conversation

Thank you, Andy, for being our guest on Creativity Squared.

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

Creativity Squared is brought to you by Sociality Squared, a social media agency who understands the magic of bringing people together around what they value and love: http://socialitysquared.com.

Because it’s important to support artists, 10% of all revenue Creativity Squared generates will go to ArtsWave, a nationally recognized non-profit that supports over 100 arts organizations.

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