The injection of AI technology into art has opened up a serious can of worms.
I ran into two examples of this in rapid succession a couple of days ago. The first came to me by way of a friend who is an artist and writer, and is about the Lensa app -- a wildly-popular AI art interface that can take an image of your face, spruce it up a bit (if it needs it -- mine certainly would), and then create digital art of you as a superhero, model, mythological creature, Renaissance painting, or dozens of other reimaginings of you. Someone I follow on TikTok posted a sequence of Lensa art based on his face -- and I have to say, they were pretty damn cool-looking.
The hitch is where all the imagery Lensa is using comes from. There are credible allegations that the owners of the app are basically shrugging their shoulders at the question. Artist Rueben Medina had the following to say about it:
I hate being a party pooper but please stop using Lensa and posting your AI art images from it. I understand if you don't care about the blatant theft of your data the app is doing, lots of things do that. What you should care about is this:
The Lensa app uses the Stable Diffusion model to create those AI images. That model is trained on the Laion database. That database is full of stolen artwork and sensitive images. Using Lensa hurts illustrators/photographers in two major ways:
1. This database was built without consent nor compensation. That means the work is stolen.
2. The proliferation of cheap AI art is culturally devaluing the work of illustrators which is already at rock bottom.
Is there an ethical way to create AI art? Absolutely. Databases built on images that artists have opted into and are being compensated for is the first step. Pretty much none of these AI art apps do that because it would make their business model (Lensa wants $40/yr) unprofitable.
This one hits hard for me because my wife is an artist who shows all over the Northeast, and it has become increasingly difficult for her to sell her pieces at a price that fairly compensates her for her time, skill, and talent -- in part because it's so easy to get mass-produced digital art that gives the impression of high quality at a far lower price. Carol's work is stunningly original -- you seriously should check out her website -- and while she still has very successful shows, the game is a lot harder than it used to be.
Part of the problem is how good the AI has gotten. And it's not just visual art that is under attack. Right after I ran into the Lensa sequence on TikTok and saw Rueben Medina's impassioned plea not to use it, I stumbled across a paper in the journal Computers in Human Behavior describing an AI program that can produce haiku, a stylized seventeen-syllable form originating in Japan that often deals with finding beauty in nature, and evokes the emotions of serenity, peace, wistfulness, and nostalgia.
The authors write:
To determine the general characteristics of the beauty experience across object kinds, Brielmann et al. (2021) proposed eleven dimensions that have been considered by prominent philosophers of aesthetics (pleasure, wishing to continue the experience, feeling alive, feeling that the experience is beautiful to everyone, number of felt connections to the experience, longing, feeling free of desire, mind wandering, surprise, wanting to understand the experience more, and feeling that the experience tells a story) and eight dimensions conveyed by psychologists (complexity, arousal or excitement, learning from the experience, wanting to understand, harmony in variety, meaningfulness, exceeding one's expectation, and interest). In accordance with [this scheme], these dimensions were used to identify factors that delineate the experience of beauty in human-made and AI-generated haiku.
It is both fascinating and disquieting that the software produced haiku so authentic-sounding that a panel of readers couldn't tell them apart from ones written by humans."It was interesting that the evaluators found it challenging to distinguish between the haiku penned by humans and those generated by AI," said Yoshiyuki Ueda, who co-authored the paper, in an interview with Science Daily. "Our results suggest that the ability of AI in the field of haiku creation has taken a leap forward, entering the realm of collaborating with humans to produce more creative works. Realizing [this] will lead people to re-evaluate their appreciation of AI art."