‘Art’ banned as AI debate rages

‘ARTWORK’ by artificial intelligence will be banned from sale at this year’s Supanova Comic Con in Perth.

The backlash is part of a widespread resistance from artists whose works have been fed into computers without their knowledge or permission, only to see recognisable variants popping up across the internet.

“Nothing has ever brought us together like this before,” Ginger Meggs and former Perth Voice cartoonist Jason Chatfield told us. 

Now based in New York, he’s president of the US-based National Cartoonists Society, which recently declared “[we] oppose the commercial use of AI-generated images that have been trained on copyrighted works, and will not allow any artificially created art to be submitted for consideration for membership, nor any category of awards”.

Mr Chatfield has been keeping tabs on AI art for a few years now.

“I am not a luddite, and I have no illusions about new technologies affecting the way our industry works‚ some developments have been great, others not-so-great, but I feel this new technology creates something of an existential crisis for the NCS members’ ability to make income as creators.”

AI image generators took off in the last months of 2022 with tech giants launching publicly-available previews of systems like Dall-e 2, MidJourney and Stable Diffusion. 

The AIs have been “trained” on billions of images scraped from the web, including artists’ original works from their online portfolios, and the AIs use that training to synthesise a picture according to a few words provided by the user. 

It means a user can name a scene and ask it to be rendered in the style of a certain artist, and the image it spits out can be a pretty plausible fake (if uncanny and usually soulless).

AI image generators are predicted to be a huge money-maker for their owners once the previews have been turned into commercial products, but there’s no compensation for the artists who unwillingly made it possible.

That’s prompted organisations like Supanova, which runs the Comic Con in June, to declare the organisation “has the utmost Australian Cartoonists Association, David Blumenstein, says “[I’m] hearing from artists who believe they’re already experiencing work slowdown as a result”.

Mr Blumenstein has played around with Midjourney where you can see what images other users are requesting, and says “people are definitely using it for commercial purposes already: making logos, concept art, images for NFTs, cheap book covers for Amazon e-books. 

“I think this is likely to affect mostly early career artists for now – some of those $100, $200 jobs that keep us going in lean times or start off a career won’t be coming in – but more senior people who do things like animation concept design, advertising storyboards or internal comms illustrations at a corporate should probably be worried too, because I suspect anyone hiring artists to do ‘internal’ work – which the public never sees – will consider using AI instead if they can get away with it.”

Beyond missing out on the profit, Mr Chatfield says the way the technology’s being used poses a massive risk to artists’ reputations.

Soon after launch, the AI’s fakes quickly started creeping into internet search results for the artist’s names, appearing side-by-side with their genuine pieces. 

“There’s nothing else we’ve seen in art, including pastiche, appropriation, homage… that has had this damaging an effect on an artists’ legacy.

“Many images that come up when you Google the more famous artists’ names are now not their creations, but an AI-generation simulacrum.

Legacy

“This, in my opinion, is the most important aspect: The artist’s ability to control their legacy; The body of work they leave behind.”

Some NCS members are exploring a class action against the AI companies. 

Mr Chatfield is organising alongside other arts organisations ahead of an AI ethics symposium in February, “to establish how we will coordinate to lobby the government to establish a code of ethics for using the copyright of creators to generate commercial art”. 

So far the AI industry’s response to these concerns hasn’t brought much satisfaction to artists. 

Midjourney founder David Holz was asked if he sought consent from artists in a Forbes interview in September 2022, and answered: “No. There isn’t really a way to get a hundred million images and know where they’re coming from.”

Stable Diffusion recently announced they’d let artists ‘opt out’ of having their work included in training future versions, though the older versions will remain useable for those determined to create fakes of unwilling artists’ work.

Mr Chatfield says there’s ways this technology could be used ethically. “An opt-in clause, for a start,” he says, to get artist’s permission before their work is used. “Opt-out is much harder, nay, impossible, since you can’t ‘untrain’ the AI once the artist’s style has been sucked into the vortex.”

Mr Blumenstein agrees, saying there’s “no reason AI can’t be seamlessly integrated into the workflow of anyone who wants to use it, but the artist (and the writer, and the musician, [etc]) should see a piece of the profit, and have the choice of opting ‘in’ to this stuff rather than having to opt out after the fact.”

“More than anything I think we need to help our clients understand exactly how much work and consideration goes into creating commercial art, which is something the Australian Cartoonists Association is working on.”

by DAVID BELL

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