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What is AI art and how do I make some?

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Who else saw these photos and thought they were real?  Turns out they were all AI art, made by artificial intelligence, things like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and Dall.e to name a few. And while these results are mind bendingly convincing, you might be surprised to discover just how easy it is to put artificial intelligence to work. TDA has explored this idea that chat bots are coming for our jobs, particularly information heavy jobs. But what we haven’t looked at is how people are using AI tools to produce visual work. So, how do I make AI art?

AI tools can go way beyond writing poems on the spot or producing student essays. They can also generate original works of art, some of which have even won competitions. “I’ve been thrown under the bus pretty significantly. I mean, but I’m a jujitsu practitioner so I can take the pressure.” “There’s no point saying, Oh, let’s pause, I mean, it’s here, you know, we created this technology. We’re not going to put this this genie back in the bottle.” As AI begins to create more and more into creative sectors, it’s now got us thinking, where is this all going?

Art and photography have always been expressions of the human experience. From the earliest cave paintings to modern masterpieces. Art has been a reflection of our culture, our beliefs, our emotions, our politics, the list goes on. But what happens when machines start creating art of their own? “They’re not minds. They’re not intelligent. They’re basically just giant calculators. Very, very sophisticated ones looking for patterns. And whether that be in texts, in music, in images and video. And then it learns from those patterns. And then it can use them to generate new images or text or music.”

A popular AI website used to generate images is called Midjourney, an AI art generator that can pull together original artworks from text prompts. What kind of prompts? Think the Pope in a Balenciaga puffer coat walking the streets of Rome. The results are compelling and some AI prompters have even managed to pick up first place in art competitions. In September of last year, Jason Allen submitted a piece of art that was generated with the help of Midjourney.

“At the beginning of last year, I started seeing artwork that I’d never seen in my lifetime, like significantly impactful, stunning imagery. What’s happening? So I’m using it and I’m realising, Oh man, this is going to change everything. One day I’m halfway asleep, halfway dreaming, and I start imagining these women in Victorian dresses wearing space helmets. And I’m like, I’ve never seen that before. “I could see what that looks like in Midjourney. They all came together and I’m just getting iteration after iteration of amazing image, amazing image, amazing image.”

These iterations are like modifications to the original prompt, and Jason did about 800 of these. For example, I can modify our Pope picture to get him holding a balloon. Though I’m not banking on this particular image to win any awards. “If you have a really strong concept, you’re going to get results that are similar or very much like what you’re looking for. And then at that point you’re just kind of refining it and polishing it, really.” Jason went on to submit Space Opera Theater with full disclosure to the Colorado State Fair, taking out the main prize. But while Jason didn’t set out to deceive anyone, others can very easily use it to do just that.

“We often think about film video to be the record of the world around us as evidence that something happened.” The photos of the Pope in the puffer jacket were viewed 20 million times closer to home, and earlier this year, the Internet decided that TV presenter Richard Wilkins had been ‘arrested’. It was like a snowball. It was just gathering steam. And then I started getting arrested at various other cities around the world. My son, Christian said: “Clearly, these are fake. RW would never be seen in such baggy jeans”. “I spoke to lawyers. They suggested it was going to be a bit like Whac-A-Mole: you get rid of one and then the others pop up.”

Facebook have content monitoring tools to identify photos that include nudity or breach publishing guidelines. But removing fakes doesn’t seem to meet this threshold. “Do you take on Meta? You know, if they can remove a woman’s breast from their platform, surely they can remove stuff like this. But I don’t think there’s the appetite for them to do it.” “It’s about being transparent, having policies and laws to govern that as well, and also educate the public, really give the public the information that they need to critically think through all these things that they’re going to be facing.”

And while these original works of AI art or mocked up fake arrest images are on the extreme end of photo manipulation, these AI tools are already in action, whether you know it or not.“What’s really ironic, whenever I hold up my phone and record the world with my camera, it’s already subjected to a number of algorithms that stitch the image together, that balance light and so on. Photography’s already subjected to a range of different algorithmic processes.”

As for whether or not artists should be leaning into these technologies… “We see this in every art movement, too. Every art movement throughout history is somehow both related to technology and pushed back against.” “It’s an amazing technology, and it’s here to stay even just as was the Internet and electricity and the printing press: the ability to spread messages more easily, but also block the ability to spread propaganda more easily. If you think about these technologies in this longer context of human history, we can look to the past to maybe manage this one a little bit better.”

The common thread between everyone that I speak to about this is that the original concept, the idea or the prompt is always king. “AI is just another way of reproducing the world in a mechanical way, just like photography was in the 19th century.” There’s no point in trying to pause these technologies or put the genie back into the bottle and the next steps in how we deal with these AI tools will require input from across all sectors. “We really need to bring a lot of people together to the table that aren’t necessarily machine learning engineers or out working in big tech to all come together and discuss how to manage these things.”

There’s a huge multidisciplinary discussion that is taking place right now and we’re going to be watching it really closely as it evolves. Coming up next time, did an AI just write the next number one hit? And is it even legal?

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