AI Art, Ethics, and Where I Stand

While nobody specifically asked, since I have some friends who are all about the AI art and some who believe it’s something that should be avoided because of all the ethical issues, and since I’m obviously having fun playing with it with my “AImoji” project, I figured I’d at least make a nod to the elephant in the room.

An AI generated image of an African elephant standing in what appears to be a Victorian sitting room.

There are absolutely some quite serious ethical questions around AI generated artwork. To my mind the three most serious are (not in any particular order):

  1. Much of the material used to train the AI engines was scraped off the internet, often without any consideration of copyright, certainly without any attempt to get permission from the original creators/artists/photographers/subjects/etc., and some people have even found medical images that were only approved for private use by their doctor, but somehow ended up in the training sets. That situations like this are likely (hopefully) in the minority doesn’t absolve the companies who acquired and used the images to create their AI engines from being responsible for using these images.

  2. As the AI engines continue to improve, it is getting more and more difficult to distinguish an AI generated image from one created by an artist. There are also a number of people and organizations who have flat-out stated that they are looking at AI generated imagery as a way to save money, because it means they now don’t have to pay actual artists to create work. Obviously, this is not a particularly good approach to take.

  3. Because some of the engines are able to create images in the style of a particular artist, and the output quality continues to improve, there have already been instances where a living artist is being credited for creating work that was generated by an AI bot. And, of course, if you can create an image that looks like your favorite artist’s work for low or no cost…well, for a lot of people, they’ll happily settle for an AI generated “close enough” rather than an actual commissioned piece. Obviously, this is also not a particularly good approach to take.

I’m enjoying playing with the AI art generation tools. I’m also watching the discussions around the ethical questions around how they can and should be used.

The issues above are all very real and very serious. It’s also true that AI art can be just another tool in an artist’s toolbox. I’ve seen artists who use AI art generators to play with ideas until they find inspiration, or who use parts of the generated output in their own work. I’ve seen reports of people who want to commission art use the generator to get a rough idea of what they’re looking for that they can give to an artists as a rough example or proof of concept. So there are ways to use AI art generators in, well, more-ethical ways (it’s hard to argue they’d be entirely ethical when the generators have unethical underpinnings).

So, where I stand in my use at this point:

  1. I don’t use living artist’s names to influence the style one way or another, and have only occasionally used dead artist’s names as keywords (I’ll admit, H.R. Giger has been a favorite to play with).

  2. I don’t feed images in, try to generate images of actual people, or use images of actual people (including myself) as source material.

    One caveat: if a tool does all of its processing locally on my device, I may use my own images, including some of myself. But nothing that feeds images into the systems.

  3. And, of course, anything I do is just for fun, and to make me, and maybe a few other people, laugh (or occasionally recoil in horror).

For a few months this past year, I used an AI-generated image of a dragon flying over a city skyline for the Norwescon website and social media banner image. This was always intended as a temporary measure to fill the gap between last year’s convention and getting art from this year’s Artist Guest of Honor, and as soon as we had confirmed art from our GOH, the AI-generated art came down. It was also chosen much earlier in the “isn’t AI art neat” period, before I’d read as much about the issues involved. As such, I won’t be using AI art for Norwescon again, and will go back to sourcing copyright-free images from NASA or other such avenues when we are in the interregnum period.

So: I understand those who see AI art as something that should be avoided. I also understand those who see it as another tool. And, honestly, I also understand those who just see a shiny new toy that they want to play with. I’m somewhere in the midst of all those points of view, and while I don’t personally see the need to avoid AI art bots entirely, I am consciously considering how I use them and what I use them for.

2 thoughts on “AI Art, Ethics, and Where I Stand”

  1. @djwudi I agree w/ your ethical standards for #AIArt: 1) Don't use people's likenesses and 2) Don't ask for artists' styles by name.You might argue that #2 isn't copying but worse b/c the result isn't plainly derivitive but a "new" work which could be confused w/ the artist's.Neither of these, however, will protect artists from loss of "rote work." For artists sake, I hope overuse of #AIArt for backgrounds images, patterns or filler/editorial art will create demand for human art again.

    • Thanks! My best guess (hope?) is that we’re currently in a period similar to that in the late 80s/early 90s when desktop publishing was brought to the masses (original Mac, ImageWriter, and early DTP programs) and suddenly everyone was using every font available on every document, just because they could, and everything looked a right mess. Over time, that lessened (though never entirely disappeared, as evidenced by the many “inspirational”/”humorous” t-shirts out there using this same design style), and hopefully, the same will happen with the current AI art explosion. (Of course, using lots of fonts was just bad design, and didn’t have the ethical concerns that AI art generation does.)

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