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This AI tool ‘threatens human creativity’ and the art world is worried

Watch: This AI tool could kill human creativity and is worrying the art world | The Crypto Mile

An art-generating artificial intelligence (AI) is taking the internet by storm with the ability to produce fully rendered pieces of "original" artwork in seconds, images that would take professional artists weeks to accomplish.

The application is called Stable Diffusion and it has been hailed as a way to "bring creativity to all" by Stability AI, the coders who designed it.

The application can create artwork on demand, and all a user has to do is type in a description of what artwork they want before they are given a number of examples to choose from in seconds.


The AI-generated art is created via a trawl of professional artwork and photographs that already exist on the internet. A sophisticated algorithm then rearranges this "big data" to create a multitude of new pieces of art that are related to the inputted text prompts.

But, are these pieces really original or just sophisticated mimicry of the creative endeavours of human artists?

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Artist Greg Rutkowski hit out at the tool, saying it could foster laziness and lead artists and designers to avoid using their imagination and visualisation and instead rely on a computer algorithm. In the long-term, this could erode human agency and creativity, he said.

On this week's The Crypto Mile, Rutkowski, an animation, concept art and illustration artist, described his frustration at how easy it was to create professionally rendered artwork using the AI tool.

He said: "The way it's developing and the direction where it's heading is terrifying".

Rutkowski has worked for Disney (DIS), Games Workshop (GAW.L), Wizards of the Coast and Blizzard Entertainment and, to his frustration, has seen his artistic style copied in thousands of images created using the artificial intelligence software as the Stable Diffusion app creates images from different sources on the internet.

If a user adds an artist's name as a reference the image takes on that artist's style.

Street Study by Greg Rutkowski
Street Study by Greg Rutkowski. Photo: Greg Rutkowski (Greg Rutkowski)

He added: "The application creates an imitation of an existing artist's style and people use different text prompts to guide the artificial intelligence to create an image or an illustration or a piece of concept art. You can create a landscape or portrait based on the certain style of existing artists or old masters."

Rutkowski is concerned that the open-source program is scraping images from the internet, often without permission and proper attribution to artists.

There is also a concern that as the system improves artists could become redundant.

He said: "Right now it just takes five to ten minutes to create something that humans would only be able to create in two weeks.

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"We have to wait probably a year until it gets so good that it will probably compete with living artists."

Rutkowski said artificial intelligence could "definitely" make human creativity redundant.

"It can also be a threat not just for artists, but also for the educational system in the art industry, where new artists are trying to get into the industry by investing a lot of money to get the knowledge and experience and then move on to doing commissions and to get into the industry."

Stable Diffusion generated piece with text prompt, 'woman on a mountain with a dragon'. AI
AI art: Stable Diffusion generated piece with text prompt, 'woman on a mountain with a dragon'. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK (CreativeML Open RAIL-M license)

I then decided to test out the Stable Diffusion application.

First I used the text prompt "woman and dragon on a mountain" which gave a range of images including the image above. This was the best of a series of strange efforts in which the algorithm tried to mesh together the most relevant online findings.

Then, told the algorithm to incorporate Greg Rutkowski's style. This made a huge difference in the generated imagery. I was presented with a range of more refined pieces.

Although they looked good, there was a sense of pillaging Rutkowski's creativity to gain a pastiche that was a close match of his style.

The Stable Diffusion application seemed to copy Rutkowski's style, but the artist got no credit and has no copyright claim over the AI-generated image.

AI generated artwork with the text promt: 'Woman on a mountain with a dragon in the style of Greg Rutkowski'
AI generated artwork with the text promt: 'Woman on a mountain with a dragon in the style of Greg Rutkowski'. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK (CreativeML Open RAIL-M license)

Artificial intelligence-generated artwork has reached such a level of sophistication that one piece won first place at the Colorado State Fair Art Competition.

James Allen, a US-based video game designer, spent roughly 80 hours working on the entry which won a $300 prize.

Allen's piece Théâtre D’opéra Spatial was created by entering words and phrases into the Midjourney AI-generated art application which then produced more than 900 renderings for him to choose from. He selected three that he liked the most and adjusted them in Adobe Photoshop (ADBE).

He printed the end result onto a canvas and entered it into the prestigious competition.

His win spawned a furious online debate about what constitutes art.

One Twitter (TWTR) follower said: "We’re watching the death of artistry unfold right before our eyes — if creative jobs aren’t safe from machines, then even high-skilled jobs are in danger of becoming obsolete What will we have then?"

Some have argued the process of using artificially generated imagery as inspiration is not unlike David Bowie's process of using "cut-ups" to come up with the lyrics for his songs.

Bowie used a computer programme that cut up and randomised words and then presented them back to him as long lines of algorithmically generated sentences.

Bowie would then either take a sentence and use it exactly as it was in his lyrics, or he would use these newly generated sentences as trigger points for his own ideas.

British Pop Star David Bowie screams into the microphone as he performs on stage during his concert in Vienna February 4, 1996. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
Pop Star David Bowie sometimes used a computer programme to come up with the lyrics for his songs. Photo:Leonhard Foeger/Reuters (Leonhard Foeger / reuters)

Proponents of the technology say that the new AI development could boost rather than inhibit human creativity.

Group director at Meta (META) Martin Harbech said on LinkedIn: "Will AI kill human creativity? With the explosive rise of DALL·E, Midjourney, and other new image generation models, there’s a heated debate about the impact AI will have on art.

"I firmly believe AI will unlock a new era of creativity, but not everyone agrees.

"To have an informed and meaningful debate about this important topic, I wish more people would start following some of the truly inspiring up-and-coming artists now pushing the boundaries for how technology can supercharge creativity."

He pointed to artists like UK-based Josephine Miller who is incorporating AI-generated work into her creations.

The new technology could increase the choices available for artists when looking for inspiration but also raises questions around the nature of creativity and artistic expression.

Who will be the main driving force behind the creations that have their basis in an image generated by AI? Will it be an artist's creative impulse or the algorithm that uses second-hand imagery to create a composite image, that many think is devoid of any meaning?

Since the industrial revolution, we have acquiesced to the dominance of machines in many areas of human endeavour. First machines superseded our efforts in labour, then intellect with computers, and now perhaps human creativity.

Watch: Working for a DAO: 'No boardroom, no boss, no bias' | The Crypto Mile