Staedtler hands AI a real defeat

You’ve really got to hand it to Staedtler. The German maker of fine writing and drawing instruments has crafted a new campaign that artfully demonstrates the shortcomings of artificial intelligence.

For all of its vaunted image creation capabilities, AI has struggled with the human hand. In fact, the results have inspired descriptions like “nightmarish appendages,” “dinosaur hands,” and “the stuff of nightmares.”

The primary explanation, according to a Buzzfeed article, is that AI has been trained on datasets where hands don’t feature as prominently as faces, or where digits have been obscured by either fabric or an object they’re holding. That, experts say, has left AI unable to comprehend what an actual hand looks like, or even how it connects to the body.

That shortcoming is the basis of “The Brilliance of the Human Hand,” a new campaign from DonerNorth promoting Staedler’s new pigment arts pen range.

The campaign is anchored by a two-minute video in which AI and Leah Probst, a Toronto artist who specializes in “hyper-realism,” are tasked with creating art from a simple prompt: two people holding hands.

As Probst sets to the task using Staedtler products, she’s heard explaining via voiceover why it’s so hard to accurately render the human hand: the lack of straight lines, asymmetrical knuckles, an abundance of bones. “Hands are very, very tough,” she says.

As she talks, she extols the virtues of the pens’ smudge-free capabilities. “I’m left-handed,” she says at one point. “Smudging has always been an issue for me. (As a fellow leftie, I can attest to this; I’ve lost count of how many birthday cards I’ve ruined over the years.)

Probst’s final image, of course, is a realistic rendering of two hands coming together. The AI-generated image, meanwhile, looks, well, off—gnarled and twisted fingers protruding at weird angles, and what seems to be an index finger where the thumb should be.

It’s an increasingly rare instance where AI is, quite literally, all thumbs.


Chris Powell