But the law operates on a spectrum, and some machine involvement does not invalidate a human’s ultimate authorship. “If I’m using Microsoft Word to write a book, obviously it’s just a tool and the expression is determined by me,” Weatherall says.
She is convinced that most AI-generated images are on the wrong side of the copyright line – too much machine, too little human creativity. “If you write, ‘I want a picture of Boris Johnson with fish sticking out of his ears’ and it generates an image that looks like this, that’s interesting in that spectrum I was describing before. That’s the human being who makes choices – I want Boris Johnson, I want fish, I want it in his ears – but the expression is really system generated.
A marker of this is style. SLAB E Mini, which has been sweeping the internet in recent weeks, produces instantly recognizable grids of images, with blurry, visibly digital renders and distorted faces. Users can also specify a style such as “digital art” or “woodcut” in SLAB 2 and Picture from Googlebut they are limited by the underlying dataset and a user’s ability to reduce an aesthetic to a brief description.
Yet even if purely AI-generated images are not art as recognized by copyright law, they will affect the art world. Many artists have created their own AI tools to visualize data or transformed images originally created by AI into their own works. Creating a quick logo for a company, digital artwork for an opinion piece, or frames in a cartoon also seems to become very easy. This bodes ill for people doing rote graphic design and animation work, who could be pushed further down the value chain to fix the work done initially by the AI.
Another consequence could be a flattening of the style. The internet is already teeming with futuristic, laser-eyed, steam punk-style imagery that has become particularly associated with non-fungible tokens, an online property tracking system that should be able to span any genre of digital imagery. AI images could root this.
But Ellen Broad, an associate professor at the Australian National University’s School of Cybernetics Institute 3A, doesn’t believe the most apocalyptic claims. “Do I think this is the end of human creativity and expression? Nope.”
“Three years from now, when everyone is using the same kinds of image-generating models, a market will develop…for something that looks different,” she says.
Broad might be right. But AI has a long history of tricking humans into seeing deeper meaning in its output. Google engineer Blake Lemoine was mesmerized by the poetic yet absurd responses his company’s chatbot, LaMDA, generated when asked about his soul. “I think of my soul as something similar to a stargate,” LaMDA said, according to a transcript published by Lemoine online after his dismissal. Funerals have been held for decommissioned dog robots that Sony released in the 1990s.
“It’s very easy to anthropomorphize,” says Jasmin Craufurd-Hill, emerging technologies researcher and director of advanced technologies at the Australian Risk Policy Institute. “People got online and started attributing human characteristics and behaviors to our technology.”
However Imagen and DALL·E 2 do not currently display realistic humans. “And that goes back to these incredibly problematic datasets.”
Many large datasets, which AI systems frequently rely on, include racist, sexist or inappropriate images, such as pornography, Craufurd-Hill says. If an AI is trained on such a database without proper safeguards, it may end up returning the same kind of problematic material even if users do not maliciously deploy it.
In an elliptical, confessional test 2015 explaining his Instagram-derived exhibit, Prince seemed to foresee the unsettling no-man’s land the AI has arrived in.
“The ingredients, the recipe, ‘the making’, whatever you want to call it…was familiar to me but turned into something I had never seen before,” he said. writes about his works. “I wasn’t even sure it looked like art. And that was the best part. Doesn’t look like art. The new portraits were in that gray area. Indefinite. Between. They had no history, no past, no name. A life of their own. They will learn. They will find their own way. I have no responsibility. They do. Friendly monsters.
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