“Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot transform a canvas into a magnificent masterpiece? That’s what Will Smith asks in the 2004 movie iRobot. Of course, the answer back then was a resounding ‘no’, but 15 years later, it’s not that simple. An AI rapper has already been signed to a record company. Sure, it’s not Beethoven’s 9th symphony, but you get the idea.
If you haven’t heard anything about artificial intelligence (AI) lately, you must be living off the grid somewhere in a nuclear bunker. AI regularly makes headlines across the board. Tremendous technological advances have been made in a relatively short period of time. The development has been astounding in its speed and acceleration.
The future is firmly in the direction of AI having increased involvement in our lives, much of which will be for the better. Just yesterday I read about the future of AI in the medical field. AI will help identify potential skin cancer. AI will help better diagnose heart attacks in women.
But with any technological leap comes disruption, change and potential unemployment. We have seen this with the advent of electricity, automobiles, and the use of robotics in industry and manufacturing. And now it’s our turn: the creative industries. But what does AI mean to us as photographers and artists? Do we need to worry about the “rise of the machines”?
So how exactly is AI changing the visual arts landscape? You’ve probably heard of text-to-image platforms. Namely Dall-E2, Mid journey and Google Imagen. Now it looks like Microsoft is also jumping on the bandwagon with its own AI image generator.
These started out as what seemed like just a little fun. Type a prompt and see what the program spits out. A dog riding a dinosaur on the beach or some of those whims. The results varied wildly and the quality was generally quite questionable.
But then the mood changed. In the last three months alone, the quality of the images produced has improved at an alarming rate. The software has sampled countless photographs and paintings, and it is now starting to make artists uncomfortable. Conversations on social media discuss whether AI will end up taking jobs and leaving a trail of destruction in the creative industries.
Aurel Manea certainly seems to think so. Manea is a 3D artist and photographer based in Bucharest. As an experiment, he used the artificial intelligence program Stable Diffusion to generate photorealistic landscape images. The software created 1200 different landscapes in less than 10 minutes. The results are largely amazing. Somewhere between real life and fantasy, it’s not immediately obvious that they aren’t real.
“I think photography as a commercial product like stock photos or photography for pretty pictures is on the decline,” Manea told DIYP. “The implications are going to be huge and are going to happen quickly,” he warns, adding “it’s moving at a pace I’ve never seen before.”
Other photographers and artists have experimented with portraiture. These, too, improve and become more convincing as the software samples more images. But is it realistic to predict that AI endangers our work? Many think so, and the truth is that it is already happening.
Alex London has worked in costume and fashion design in New York City for the past ten years. Her work is intricate and detailed and much of her work is spent working with art directors and photographers on editorial shoots and brand campaigns. He shared with DIYP how he recently lost a job to AI.
Alex was hired to create concept work. After initially accepting his fee, the next thing Alex knew was that the company had bypassed his creative ideas and introduced a sample of his work into AI. He says he was shocked by the output the machine managed to create. “It felt like something I would have done,” says Alex, “which was really surreal,” he adds. “Not to overemphasize it,” he says, “it all sounds like just another way of not paying fair wages to creatives.”
There have also been stories in online chats about models being hired for casting. When they arrived, they were shocked to learn that, in fact, their likeness was being scanned to be used as data for AI software, to help machines learn in some way. And it’s this sneaky hiding of the truth that pisses people off. It’s one thing to lose work to a computer, but when an entire industry and its related industries collapse because of it, we could find ourselves in a world of suffering.
In the future, will an art director or brand need to hire illustrators, photographers, graphic designers, and models? Or will they simply be able to transmit their ideas directly into a computer? The Economist even used AI-generated artwork for its June 11 cover. Granted, largely to prove a point they could. However, it shows a harsh reality of what photographers, artists and illustrators may face in the future. Book covers, album art, articles and stock images could all be affected.
And then there’s the other thorny issue of copyright and the fact that thousands of copyrighted images have already been fed into the machines for them to learn. Largely without the permission of copyright holders and creators. In the very near future it will probably be possible to enter a prompt using the name of a well-known photographer and the machine will generate an image based on that style. If you can create an image in the style of Dan Winters using his work as a starting point but without actually engaging Dan Winters, where does that leave us?
Dream the dream of being alive.Muzica tot de un AI#stablediffusion
Posted by Aurel Manea on Sunday, August 28, 2022
But not everyone is negative about it. Among the bells of fate are the quiet voices of open-minded artists in the face of the rise of AI. And they may be right. The cat is out of the bag now, there is no way to put it back.
Immunity to change
Manea admits that not all areas of photography will be affected by AI. “Photography for the idea of photography (real places, real humans, real moments) is safe,” he says. Of course portraits you take of real people will not be affected, Lucy from above will not create her company portraits using AI for example. And is it really that different from CGI-generated images? These are now already employed in many branding and commercial works.
Retoucher and creator of Infinite Tools, Pratik Naik has spent time experimenting with AI-created images and talks a lot about it on social media. He’s not particularly positive or negative about technology, but largely sees it as something we need to be realistic about.
“I need to be educated and additionally, to help stay present before I’m no longer relevant,” writes Pratik. “I will use my creativity to excel in any path that opens before me.” And he’s open about it to inspire other creatives to do the same.
Many see it as one more tool in their creative toolbox. Digital artists use it in conjunction with other pre-existing technologies and create new concepts and designs with it. “The ability to draw or paint is no longer a barrier for anyone,” says Pratik, “and now what stands out is just who has the most creative mind and vision and they can display these visions eloquently.”
The future of photographers
Digital photography is in a unique position where it straddles both worlds. Change is inevitable, and as a result, I could almost see a movement in the ground that will benefit “slow art”. That is, creative human-made, handmade efforts that take time. I could even predict an even greater interest in film photography.
In the end, Pratik is right. We can’t change the direction this is taking, but by learning and understanding it, we could collectively help steer things in a better direction. As a society, we must not allow the benefits of machine learning to accrue to the few who own it. Change is inevitable, and this time disruption is coming to the creative realms. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that AI could have as big of an impact as the internet.
Adapt, evolve and overcome. You have to offer something the AI can’t and then find a market for it. It’s business.