If you know just one thing about the outdoors, it's probably that you should steer clear of bears. And yet, images of hikers posing for their best selfies with the furry predators are popping up all over the internet. Do we have a set of really friendly black bears on our hands?
Nope—AI has just finally infiltrated the outdoors. Artificial-intelligence company Midjourney has created the adorable and simultaneously confusing photos. The company first made a splash when a user-created piece won the Colorado State Fair art contest, and now they're back at it again, creating images of bears hiking with humans as if they are one of the gang.
The series inspired by the apex predators first appeared on Reddit via user velocd, before Pubity featured them on its Instagram page. The images are generated in various formats, from selfies to bears decked in hiking gear and human clothes.
Thank goodness, considering the National Parks Service really doesn't want you getting up close and personal with a bear. Plus, it's downright dangerous.
View this post on Instagram
Granted, after the first glance, you can tell that the bears in the pictures aren't real. Their features are too perfect, including their fur. Either these bears have a killer personal care routine or a 24/7 on-call groomer. Even the humans in the photos have slight errors, alerting the observant eye that these aren't someone's actual pictures.
However, at a glance, the images seem real. And the fact that the creative images give bears a softer demeanor and make them far more approachable is concerning for many people in the outdoor community.
A few of these images could be taken at face value to the untrained eye. But viewers may think these friendly hiking buddies exist in the wild and attempt to take their own bear selfies.
For adults, it's obvious the bears in hiking apparel are not real. However, younger viewers don't have the same perception that adults do.
Case in point: As I was looking at the picture of the hiking gear-clad bruins, my 4-year-old pops her head over my shoulder, saying, "Awwww!! Those are adorable little bears! They are so cute!"
I had to break it to her that the backpack-wearing, hiking-booted, trekking pole-carrying bears weren't real—a conclusion she doesn't have the life experience to come to on her own.
She was crushed.
Of course, it's a perfect teaching moment, giving me another opportunity to educate her on interacting with nature while we are hiking or camping—or, in this case, how not to interact. Most adventuring parents have this conversation with their kids anyway, but it usually happens when they are out in nature.
However, children aren't the only ones who could fall prey to the misinterpretation. Older adults who aren't familiar with AI may also misunderstand the images. The plethora of comments assuming the images were Photoshopped indicates that not everyone is hip to AI's capabilities.
Even without AI encouragement, plenty of national park visitors find themselves in precarious situations trying to get the perfect shot with bears, bison, and elk. Some have even found themselves in hot water—quite literally, in the case of one Yellowstone visitor—with authorities for some of their antics. As harsh as it sounds, many park visitors don't know how to properly interact with nature as it is, and this type of AI creation can encourage the "do anything for the 'gram" attitude that runs rampant through the parks. This behavior is often featured on Instagram accounts such as @touronsofyellowstone, whose mission is to bring awareness of what not to do while spending time in nature. Unfortunately, it is never short on content.
While the AI-generated images are adorable and give the carnivores some personality, people need to remember that fiction doesn't translate into real life.