Down the AI rabbit hole: What is art? What is theft? And what’s next?
Down the AI rabbit hole: What is art? What is theft? And what’s next?

By on in Tech & Trends

Down the AI rabbit hole: What is art? What is theft? And what’s next?

AI-generated art is becoming exponentially better every day—arguably, right now, as you read this article it’s changing even more. Just two years ago, I wrote an opinion on the state of AI in the article, Algorithms—Control, Art or Somewhere In-Between? While what was happening back then was amazing, it was nothing compared to what is happening today—and even more important, what AI will be able to do tomorrow. AI is becoming a more and more important component of business models across the entire spectrum of industries, however, in this post, I am focusing on its application in the “art” world, and what it means to ideas, artists, and fair play.


How do I enforce ownership of my art or style against the likes of Google, Nvidia, Microsoft, and a plethora of other companies?


Why the quotes around the word art? I included them because one of the biggest debates around AI-generated imagery is whether it should be considered art. One side of this many-sided debate comes from the artist community, including fine artists as well as commercial artists. Not only do they suggest that AI art is NOT art, they go further to say it may actually be theft or at the very least copyright infringement.

Of course, any time a new medium comes along, there are people who say it isn’t art—it happened with photography and digital art—even Braque and Picasso heard it when they started experimenting with Cubism. But AI isn’t just whipping up the “Get off my lawn” set. It’s putting nearly everyone on notice.


AI: Mining artists’ work for good? Or for profit?

As an artist myself, I do not have the privilege of casually searching the internet and using whatever I find online to produce a new or unique piece of art.

On the other hand, the ginormous companies that mine and manage the data that informs the algorithms that generate AI images operate as not-for-profit organizations under the auspices of providing research for the greater good of humankind. This data consists of images gathered from the internet as well as text descriptions, keyword tagging, the bios and practices of the artists that produced the work, and whatever the data snipes might think will result in more-informed final images.

In reality, most of these so-called nonprofit organizations are divisions of larger, for-profit corporations. So they get away with plagiarism, copyright infringement and theft, while hiding behind the shield of research and not-for-profit status. Then they simply license or hand over the valuable data they have accrued to very-much-for-profit companies. Bullshit.


Where do actual artists fit in all this?

You might wonder why then, as artists, we allow this theft to happen. It’s a big hill to climb. When I think about my own art and the protections I may or may not. How do I enforce ownership of my art or style against the likes of Google, Nvidia, Microsoft and a plethora of other companies? It’s daunting, and tempting to throw in the towel, and it’s possible that as these issues continue to arise, companies that are stealing art and ideas will eventually come to an arrangement that is equitable to the artists and themselves. (Ha. Ha. Ha. Yeah, like that will happen.)

There’s also the fear that because AI created “art” and assets are not going away—and, in fact, will only become more and more sophisticated and accurate—artists will be replaced by AI and become obsolete. Initially, I didn’t worry about that. I believed that no machine could replace artistic fire, and I really didn’t imagine that replacing human talent was these companies’ goal. Then I saw some of the speech- and text-generated AI art being created. Just think, by entering a few lines of descriptive text you can get an image of said text beautifully rendered in seconds without having to hire a photographer. Ouch. Needless to say, I now believe those fears are warranted.

It remains to be seen where all of this will end but at the time of this writing I don’t see it being that great for my creative community. While I am fascinated by the technology and quite impressed by the pieces being created, I personally can’t get past the blatant theft of someone else’s art, style, technique and ownership. I’m sure it is going to be an interesting adventure and I will gladly let you know my thoughts along the way.


AI-generated image: robot vs artist fight /PROMPT: Detailed fight of a robot artist and a human artist in an art gallery with cheering fans in the background, photorealistic, hyperdetailed, dynamic


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