Recently, I have noticed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being mainstreamed on social media, often for political purposes. AI can create a new image in seconds from just a few clues that you provide. You get four sample images from which to choose. If you don’t like any of those, just add more detail to your request and you’ll see another four. All during the process, you can view a collection of the images offered so far, so you can change your mind and go back if you want.
It feels like magic and it’s free.
Before the New AI Images
Back in the day (by which I mean six months ago), you had to hire an illustrator to produce an image for your book or magazine cover, article website, social-media post, etc. That costs money—a lot more than most writers have by way of disposable income.
An illustrator’s portfolio would be included in a volume of work that art directors could use to find just the right style before contracting with the artist. I loved those books of illustration and could sit for hours just perusing the images.
It’s a Whole New Game
Now, however, the game has changed.
If you use social media, you have already seen some of those AI-generated images without realizing it. You might have asked yourself where all pictures of Donald Trump praying in church with an angel standing behind him or a super-cool, laid-back Joe Biden came from. They were generated by AI. And there are many more. You can always tell an AI image because it has a glossy, two-dimensional quality that’s unlike real artwork. Think calendar art or a jigsaw puzzle.
Trying AI for Myself
I decided to try it for myself a couple of weeks ago for a short story / novella I wrote called “The Abbot of Velskyr,” using Microsoft Bing as the AI image creator.
My goal was an image of a monastery high in the mountains above a valley. The first four pictures showed buildings like the Potala Palace in Tibet. That didn’t match my mental image, so, I modified my request to include a Medieval structure made of stone. It took two more attempts before I got this picture. It does not match my image perfectly, but it’s pretty darn good. It probably took 10 minutes.
When publishing a post for The Next Phase Blog, I have spent significant time trying to find appropriate images on the internet. Most came free and I attributed them when I knew the photographer or publication that produced them. Only once did someone ask me to take down a proprietary image and I did so immediately.
A Glitch in the AI Software
For the recent article on the door blowing out of a Boeing 737 Max 9 airliner, I wanted an image of a passenger falling out of the plane. This violated Bing’s rules, however, and the AI software would not provide it. I settled for an image of two accountants working late — and added a news photo of the hole in the fuselage.
For this post, I tried to create an image of AI software scraping paintings off the internet. That sent the software into a fugue state where it cycled continually and produced nothing. So, I modified the command several times as I tried to get closer to the image I wanted. After perusing about 20 attempts, I picked this one. Again, it’s not perfect but I could see it on the cover of a science-fiction magazine.
Scraping the Internet
Now, I understand that AI software draws on paintings and photographs it scrapes off the internet—without compensating the artists. For all I know, AI software that writes on command has drawn on posts published on this blog as well as my two published novels and several short stories. If so, I have not been compensated.
This, of course, is wrong. It works for the end user but not for the artists who need to make a living with their work.
Seeing that I’m just a retired high-tech communications director, however, I have few options to pursue. Actually, no options at all. I assume that writers and artists with deeper pockets than I will take up the cause and demand residual payments, as the Writers Guild of America did last year.
In the meantime, I will continue to create some original images for The Next Phase Blog. When you see them, you will recognize them. Just look closely for that polished image.