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AI ‘Hiking Bears’ Fascinate Internet, Scramble Human Brains

Varyingly personified images of bears are making the internet rounds. People say: they're cute, they're fake, they're problematic.

an ai-generated image of hikers standing with a bearNot your typical hiking buddy — in fact, not even a hike; (photo/velocd via Reddit)
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Midjourney, the artificial intelligence platform that won an art contest at the Colorado State Fair, has again delighted and befuddled audiences across the internet.

How? By generating images of bears cast as humans’ hiking buddies. Varyingly personified, the bear likenesses appear mainly in selfie format and sometimes, clothed and equipped like human hikers.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on ExplorersWeb.

General consensus among the internet — adorbs! Also troubling!

“These AI images are so wholesome,” said posting account @pubity, which is owned by two media marketers who got their start as influencers at 14. (The images first appeared via Reddit user velocd.)

Comments poured in — from the elated to the sarcastic to the woefully misunderstanding.

Some laughed out loud, some noticed a resemblance between one of the slides and their friend, and “@ed” said a friend. Some lamented the images, especially those certain in their ability to accurately predict the future. AI will eventually subjugate and punish humanity, they warned. Others furrowed brows and finger-wagged, forecasting that “kids” would likely think the images were real, and … solicit selfies from bears as a result? (Don’t do that, duh.)

Still others were a little slow on the uptake. Requests to “Photoshop” bears into vacation photos filtered in.

To wit: These images are generated by artificial intelligence, i.e., not photographic. Dead giveaways include the persisting inability of AI tools to accurately render human hands.

midjourney still can't do human hands

Midjourney may still be missing the mark on human paws, but for my money, it’s got the warm-and-fuzzy side of bears’ personality down pat.

I mean, for goodness sake, have you ever seen such a happy bear?

ai-generated image of a smiling man and bear

Seriously, though, I’m encouraged by what I see as an ability to depict these exalted apex predators in a familiar light. That bears have personalities and can enjoy life (and experience suffering) are equally validated among Native American and other indigenous populations.

There are ways to interact respectfully with bears and ways to do so disrespectfully. Of course, they’re dangerous to humans — but so are humans. Contemplating the common ground we share with ursines is more helpful than fearing them beyond reason.

Whether that common ground includes busting out the hiking poles to take a jaunt to the local overlook … is another topic.

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