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AI in Art: Tool or Termination?

Article by Sonny Voyack

Artificial intelligence (AI) is absolutely everywhere. The evolution of this technological advancement has accelerated in recent years. These intelligent machines have begun to fill in the gaps of human labor, replacing some jobs that would have otherwise been done by people such as customer service agents and even teachers. The latest Pew Research Trust Report on AI explores which workers are most exposed to the impact of AI. It suggests that well- educated workers in occupations that are information or analytics based are highly exposed. Many of these workers regard AI as providing tools to augment the work they do. So, some might see AI augmentation as a good thing, embracing these technological advancements, or allowing them to pursue aspects of work that they are more passionate about. Others, such as writers and actors participating in the Hollywood strike currently underway, are not thrilled at the idea of their hard work being so easily replaced by these self thinking machines. According to INSIDER, many human run jobs being at risk of replacement by AI such as accountants and traders, there was one set of individuals who, at first, were certain that their services could not possibly be in any danger - creatives.


For a while, there was a period of time where robots often struggled to recreate the uniquely human ability to be creative. After all, what made humans so unique was their creativity and ability to produce artistic and literary works straight from their imaginations. The human imagination itself is a rarity and seen only in human behavior. Automatic writing, drawing, and performing, as a result, was extremely wonky and full of flaws considering it was a purely human skill. However, as the years progressed, more advancements were made to AI that let them learn through material given to them, letting their data banks adapt to the information it was being provided. In other words, the more it was used, the more it was able to learn. So, this learning ability and recreation was taken public through the means of text based AI (such as ChatGPT) or image recreation (like Adobe Firefly.) Though still in its infancy, these programs are now widely used by many different people from all walks of life that are able to get their hands on this technology.


Some find AI to be extremely useful in their creative endeavors. Artists, such as Cy Teh, have fully embraced this new technology and even actively use it in their work. Enhancing his original works using AI, Cy proudly displays the uses that photo AI can offer other artists, instead of turning and running from what they do not fully understand. Cy himself states in My Modern Met in regards to his usage of AI, “I will keep moving forward and learning the good parts of each field.” The artist goes on to explain that during the pandemic, he rediscovered his love for creating art at the same time he came across this kind of AI. Believing it would help him in his work, Cy began to experiment with the various artist's programs in order to create art that he is proud of. As a pioneer of this new type of hybrid work, Cy has begun to post his pieces on his Instagram to display the proof that artists and technology can work together without fully replacing the hand of the artist altogether.


Others, on the other hand, are not so quick to embrace the concept of AI artwork as a professional medium. Being rather skeptical about automated images, many other artists are wary about bringing this type of technology into the field. Some point out that AI is the reinvention of the modern camera, which received a similar visceral reaction from artists as they believed it devalued human creativity instead of heightening it. The major difference however is that a camera only photographs what it sees at the whim of the artist, while AI art takes pieces of other artist’s works in order to create an “original '' image. As stated by Adam Hencz in Artland Magazine, “AI-image generators are built by scraping millions of photos from private databases or the open web.” It goes on to say that the reason AI can generate such high levels of detail in their works is because “they have been trained on images, some of which are copyrighted works by real artists.” So in other words, the AI can not generate any images truly on its own. It has to be prompted to produce images and relies on the already created works of real artists to generate a desired image as an output, even if their works are copyrighted or posted to private websites. This, of course, strikes a lot of controversy in the art world about whether this kind of technology should be allowed to practically steal the work of other artists without their consent, knowledge or fair compensation.


The lines between human creativity and AI are starting to become thinner and thinner as this technology continues to evolve. We as humans have the unique ability to be independently creative without having to steal ideas from other people. However, we also have the ability to choose whether we accept AI art as real art or to actively reject it altogether. At the very least, some ethical guidelines are actively being put into place in order to address the growing concerns. The US Copyright Office has started to investigate what can constitute an original work of art. According to Daniel Grant of The Art Newspaper, the office will work on a case-by-case basis regarding the use of AI in ‘original’ creative works. Van Lindburg, an intellectual property lawyer who represented the office, goes on to state that “The Copyright Office is correct that copyright requires human authorship, and the human-provided creative elements are what lead to protectability.” This means that so long as a human has a hand in the creation of these images, the rights to its use will continue to be protected. However, more research is being done actively regarding the use of picture based AI and how it will affect the laws around copyright and ownership.


It is clear that we still have a long way to go when it comes to fully understanding the creative use of AI technology and how it will affect us as a creative species. Both sides of the argument present very solid cases in regards to AI’s legal use and whether it can even be considered real art. Whatever your opinions may be on this matter, there is no denying that this technology will only continue to improve the more that we use it. We can either live with it and put guardrails in place to protect artists, or discover the consequences when human artists begin to fade into obscurity should we fail to do so.

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