Photo credit: @joysilvart on Twitter

Art in the Age of AI

The slogan “No AI Art” has been making waves around social media and forums the past few months. The proliferation of AI art generator tools such DALL-E, MidJourney and Stable Diffusion have ‘revolutionised’ the world of art and the way we look at creativity. With the development of new technologies, the use of AI-generated art has become an emerging trend in the art world. This new form of art raises important questions about the future of creativity. Should human artists be worried that they will be replaced by AI?

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The Dawn of AI

“Although I am not alive, I can still create Art.” 

These were the words spoken by a ‘robot artist’ Ai-Da as it addressed the United Kingdom’s (UK) House of Lords on October 11, 2022. Since the debut of the film ‘Metropolis’ in 1926, movies depicting artificial intelligence (AI) have been exploring the complex relationship between humans and artificial intelligence, often presenting AI in the form of an advanced, sentient being with the potential to change the world in profound ways, while simultaneously cautioning us against the potential dangers of unchecked technological advancement.

While many films take creative liberties in order to tell an exciting story, they provide a glimpse into the potential future of AI and how it might impact society. With the rapid advancement of AI in the realm of art in the past two years, it would seem that what is shown on the big screen may not be far off the mark.

Art In The Age of Artificial Intelligence

What is art? According to the Oxford dictionary, art is defined as “the use of the imagination to express ideas or feelings”, particularly in the form of artistic medium such as paintings, drawings and sculptures.

With the keywords “imagination”, “ideas” and “feelings” in mind, can the images produced by a series of algorithms be considered art in today’s context? Will human input retain its importance or be even necessary for the creation of art? At the World Economic Forum held in Davos in 2020, experts believed that human creativity remains one of the traits AI is unable to substitute. Three years forward, it would seem that this belief is being challenged with the release of AI art generators Dall-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, which are able to generate original artwork within minutes, using reference images from the internet and written prompts.

The proliferation of AI-generated art has sparked debates between AI art advocates and its critics in the past few months, voicing concerns regarding the copyrights and ownership of AI images, as well as the diminishing role of the human artist. 

Regardless of the views from either camp, the one thing that is certain is that AI is here to stay, and is expected to continue to evolve at a rapid pace. More advanced technologies may be unveiled in the near future that would open up new possibilities and further alter the way we look at creativity and the role of artists.

So How Does an AI-generated Art Tool Work?

The images created by AI tools are created using a combination of sophisticated algorithms, programs and the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN). GAN involves the use of two neural networks in which one network known as the “Generator” creates an image while the other, the “Discriminator”, is responsible for analysing and comparing the created image with references to artworks done by original human artists from the internet using a ranking system. The discriminator scores the created image based on if it fulfils the requirements of reference images from the internet. These neural networks are then combined with a language processing model, such as the one used in ChatGPT, to create an image generative model that responds to written prompts. 

AI Image Generators Through the Years

Dye painting done by the AARON machine in 1995 |
Photo credit: Harold Cohen

The concept of AI image generation has been around longer than one may think. In 1973, British artist Harold Cohen created AARON, the world’s first computer program that could paint and draw. AARON may be considered as a precursor to today’s technologies, and Cohen’s relationship with it was one of the earliest examples of a collaboration between a human artist and a machine to produce artwork. 

AARON would create drawings based on the sets of rules and forms that Cohen coded with the ultimate goal to convincingly reproduce drawings in his style. Cohen would continue to work on improving AARON for the next 40 years until his death in 2016, after which it was retired from development as its source code was not made public. Today, works done by AARON and Cohen can be found in an exhibition at the Gazelli Art House.

Just two years after the retirement of AARON as well, there was another development in the use of GAN to produce AI art. This came in the form of a portrait of Edmond de Belamy, known as the first original AI created art. The artwork was sold at a staggering price tag of US$432,500 (S$583,487) at the Christie’s auction house in New York in October 2018. It was during this period when the topic of AI art began to catch the attention of news outlets such as CBS and The Guardian

From 2015 onwards, more companies and researchers began to focus their attention on utilising neural networks in the creative field, leading to the release of one of the earliest AI-image generators, Google’s DeepDream in 2015. 

Portrait of Edmond de Belamy with the use of GAN |
Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd

It wasn’t long before the field of AI image generation was popularised; the first version of DALL-E was unveiled to testers in 2021 by OpenAI, an AI company co-founded by Elon Musk. The second version was made available to the public in November 2022, along with those of its well-known competitors, Stable Diffusion and MidJourney, in the same year.

Since then, the three generators have gone on to dominate the market and continually capture the interest of art enthusiasts and the public at large.

Artists Caught in a Crossfire — De-incentivising Human Creativity 

Jason M. Allen’s piece titled “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” wins first place at the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts Competition |
Photo credit: Jason M. Allen

The release of AI-generative tools made ripples throughout the creative industry, leading to various misunderstandings and a divide in the creative community over views on the usage of AI art generators. It brought about worries that the use of AI will de-incentivise “actual” human creativity and eventually replace human artists in art creation.

These fears were somewhat validated when an AI artwork created by Jason M. Allen, a game designer with MidJourney, emerged first among 18 entries at an art contest in September 2022. Afterwards, Allen told the New York Times, “It’s over. A.I won. Humans lost.” 

His win provoked many artists, sparking community debates on the ethical considerations of the use of AI art and forming an anti-AI art movement, protesting against the use of AI art on platforms such as Artstation.

A few forums such as ‘r/Art’ subreddits included rules disallowing the proliferation of AI art, banning people whom they suspected of violating the rule. This led to several misunderstandings, including that with the latest victim, Ben Moran, a Vietnamese concept artist whose art was mistaken for being AI-generated. 

There were also discussions on the relevancy of art schools as AI art technology continues to gain popularity. Many art schools were forced to change their curricula, with some instructors encouraging students to explore the use of AI tools while others discouraging it. Nevertheless, art educators now have the added challenge of developing an education plan that prevents students from simply typing a few phrases to turn the results into their own work.

Copyright Clashes

Aside from this, the use of AI art generators brought about fresh challenges of legal nightmares specifically in the realm of copyright infringement. As discussed earlier, AI art generators create images using reference images extracted from the internet. This would mean that many of the created images may be derivative works based on copyrighted material without the consent of the original human artist. Also, users of AI tools may attempt to file copyright protection on those said images, such as in the case of the comic book “Zarya of the Dawn”

The cover page of Zarya of the Dawn comic book produced with MidJourney |
Photo credit: Kris Kashtanova/MidJourney

This has become a pressing issue with some artists, as they seek to submit a petition to the United States Congress to ban AI art from being copyrighted. In addition, Getty Images, as well as a few artists, have launched lawsuits against MidJourney and Stable Diffusion on grounds of copyright infringement and plagiarism. 

On a positive note for those against AI art, the U.S Copyright Office rejected the copyright claims for the images used in the “Zarya of the Dawn” case, saying that AI-generated images cannot be copyrighted due to “non-human authorship”. In a similar fashion, another copyright claim was rejected on an AI artwork titled “A Recent Entrance to Paradise”. This means that at least for now, the law still sides with human artists on the grounds of copyright protection filings, despite the grey area pertaining to whether AI tools can be sued for copyright infringement.

Infringement on Data Privacy

Beyond the impacts on artists and the legal community, however, there comes another potential issue in the form of data privacy infringement. As it is known that AI is trained on data, the collection of information is paramount to AI delivering effective results. In fact, many AI art tools have clauses in their terms and conditions with regards to collection of their users’ biometric data.

In the case of popular AI art generators such as Prisma Labs, it’s terms of service state that it has the right to “perpetual, revocable, nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, fully paid, transferable, sub-licensable licence to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, translate, create derivative works”. On the other hand, MidJourney also states that they collect data such as “text or image prompts input by the user, IP address, Usage Data, Contact Information, Organisational information, Email and others”. 

This would mean that it is imperative for companies and users to read the terms and conditions of AI tools before usage to steer clear of compromising sensitive information.

The Good News for Human Creatives

Despite the flak that AI art has received, there are people who welcome it and come to its defence, believing that artists stand to gain from the use of artificial intelligence.  Claire Silver, who is known to be a collaborative AI artist, is one of these vocal advocates of AI art. She sees such artwork as a product of a new AI renaissance age which opens up new opportunities of artistic expression, not only for existing artists, but also for people who ordinarily may not be artistically inclined. 

A study by Oxford Internet Institute researchers also shares the same sentiments, disagreeing with the notion that AI will replace human artists. Anne Ploin, one of the researchers behind the study, maintains that while several parts of the creative process may be automated, it does not take away from the human decision-making and creative input that is still certainly required to create art. In fact, the presence of AI art may even encourage more people to make a comeback in the art scene, as was the case with several artists who initially did not make much progress in the industry, but decided to make a successful return to it with the use of AI tools. 

Tools such as Glaze have also been developed by researchers at the University of Chicago, which may combat ‘stealing’ of artists’ original work, and prevent AI tools from copying protected artists’ styles. With this in place, human artists would not have to worry about their work being profited from without permission, simultaneously reducing the number of legal headaches.

Conclusion: The Future of AI

One thing is for sure: the future of AI art is uncertain. However, whatever its path may be, it is sure to be shaped by both the advancements in technology as well as the perspectives of artists, art lovers, and the commercial art industry. Despite the controversies that surround it, AI art can be considered a positive force in the world of art, with proper regulations in place. It opens up opportunities for non-artists to pursue their personal creative endeavours and even offers the possibility of expanding upon one’s previous work with the use of language descriptions. It will be interesting to keep an eye on the trajectory of AI in the field of art, and how it will continue to impact human elements of creativity and expression in the future.

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The IAS Gazette is a news site run by undergraduates from the Singapore Institute of Management’s International Affairs Society (IAS). Founded in 2018, it traces its roots to The Capital, a now defunct bimonthly magazine previously under the IAS.

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