Is an AI Capable of Original Thought?

I asked Midjourney to draw a circle and I think it might have got a bit carried away.

With the recent news that artwork created by an AI won at this year’s Colorado State Fair’s art competition (in the digital arts/digitally manipulated photography category), I thought it was about time I chipped in with my thoughts on the subject.

Based on the tweets and social updates we’ve seen over the last couple of months, illustrators are giving the impression that AI-generated artwork is an exponential threat to their livelihoods. They may be right, or they could be wrong, but without the benefit of hindsight, all anyone can do is guess; all I can say is there have been AI scriptwriters for several years, but I’ve not seen professional writers running for the hills – yet, this could all change one day. However, is an AI capable of original thought? I’m assuming we’re not there yet, possibly not even close, but I’m not an AI expert so what do I know? Is AI-generated artwork possible because it’s a snapshot rather than a narrative, and because of the wealth of imagery freely available to an AI on the web? Is that what makes original AI creations possible, or are they still cleverly photo-bashing at best?

The one thing that worries me is that illustrators are perpetuating the idea that they’re being replaced by machines, creating the potential for a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may be down to my social circles, but the ones experimenting the most and telling Joe public about AI art are the freelance illustrators I follow. By flocking to use and experiment with AI-generated artwork, the illustrators train it to recognise what the general public and professionals find visually pleasing. However, in my opinion, most AI artwork seems remarkably homogeneous at this point.

I understand that some artists talking about it aren’t just angry and venting; they want to know whether they can utilise AI as part of their professional toolkit, which makes perfect sense. However, I do, again, worry that they’re giving an avalanching voice to a newfangled technology that would struggle to grow without our close-knit community inadvertently advocating for it.

Maybe AI-generated artwork in some form or another is the future, but what happens if the original content feeding the AI dries up? Will they start feeding themselves machine-generated images, closing the loop? It’s also possible that AI artwork may replace the bottom end of the illustration market and do away with the low-paying and no-budget jobs we all hate, pushing entry into the professional art market to a new level. I guess only time will tell.

In conclusion, although I appear to be on the fence, my honest belief is that AI will never be able to beat the ingenuity of professional (flesh and blood) illustrators. Illustrators will always be part of the system when it comes to creating art, as there will never be a substitute for the human condition.

For further reading: Keith Davis, Technical Design Director at KRD Design, has been kind enough to let us re-publish his 3-part series on the impact of AI on commercial art and design.

Read: What Dreams May Come


Update: 21st Oct 2022

Due to how the creative industry is using AI artwork and how big business and Joe Public are embracing it: I believe training an AI on artwork that’s not public domain or licensed for that type of usage is ethically and morally wrong and should be legally opposed. It should, in my opinion, be opt-in only for artists and copyright holders; scraping the internet for imagery shouldn’t be allowed, full stop. An AI isn’t a living human artist, and the argument that it’s doing the same thing as a person (i.e. viewing others’ artwork to find inspiration), from a technical point of view, is not the same. Humans are complex, emotional and messy; ones and zeros are not. Can a piece of software, no matter how sophisticated, be inspired? Or is an AI only capable of copying and modifying, in which case, a prompter can only hope to create derivative works or pieces that infringe on others’ intellectual property?

Additional Sources and Opinions (not endorsed)

  1. An AI-Generated Artwork Won First Place at a SFFA Competition
  2. AI and IP: copyright and patents: UK Government response
  3. This artist is dominating AI-generated art – Greg Rutkowski
  4. Artists say AI image generators are copying their style
  5. These artists found out their work was used to train AI

How is AI impacting the music industry?

  1. Labels Say AI Music Generators Threaten Music Industry
  2. AI music generators could be a boon for artists

How is AI impacting writers, authors and PR?

  1. The Advancement Of Disruptive PR Technology
  2. The ethics of AI writing and the need for a ‘human in the loop’
  3. AI text generation in marketing must be managed carefully

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