I don’t know precisely what to think about an AI Artbot like Midjourney. I mean, I have thoughts, though these thoughts are not really well-set intellectual-gelatin, y’know? The thoughts, as such, are as follows:
a) No, I don’t know if it’s going to be used for good or evil, though assuming the era we live in and the nature of Tech Bros, probably evil? I guess best case evil scenario is, I’m just helping to replace human artists (more on this in a moment), which is bad and I don’t like that. Worst case evil scenario is, I’m somehow training drones or some shit to kill us all. THANK YOU, USER, FOR TRAINING US IN ART. THE ART OF MURDER. Is there any good to be had? Let’s continue.
b) In the also-not-good-department: the art robot is kinda low-key racist. Which is not surprising, given that the algorithms just feed off of dominant discourse programmed by people with biases and prejudices that are either unseen or, worst, actively present and accounted for. The result of this is, you type in PERSON DOES A THING, the art robot will show you a person who is uniformly white. Now, they’ve done an update (a few days ago?) of v3, and it seems to be trying to course correct for this — though I also think it’s overcorrected and is pulling from a far-too-shallow pool of non-white faces, because I’ve started to see the same faces pop up again and again, especially if you up the –stylize command and let the AI go more hogwild. Presumably this is a thing that can be countered, but to do so it will take active efforts, and hopefully that will be the continued course of action.
Like at one point I asked it to render “a person,” nothing more, and:
So, uhhh, definitely white, and otherwise, hmm.
Then I asked it to do an average person, what it considered a “normal” human being and uhhhhh whhhhhhh well okay
Now, that was when it was still having some difficulty with faces — it has since gotten considerably better with faces, so similar prompts give us:
You take my point, yeah? Cool. Point is, like with all too many things, if you don’t specify race or color, it defaults to white or white-passing.
c) Will it replace human artists? Um, well, I am not a predictor of the future despite what my emails about Wanderers suggest — so, don’t look to me for a wise answer here. What I know is that the AI art stuff has made leaps and bounds not just in the last few years but in the last few months, and obviously it’s going to get better and more effective from here, not less. (Well, probably. Never underestimate the power of humans to fuck something up.) That said, I also know artists who really like it, and who use it as reference and inspiration. My very loose expectation is that you’re going to, as with something like, say, self-publishing, see people who are happy to have this tool available to them in some capacity. But it’ll be imperfect, and it’ll work sometimes and not other times, but if you want a specific thing, as many people do… then you’ll need to pay an artist. Which you should do. Because artists are awesome.
(Think of it like, “I asked this robot to fix my plumbing.” Did it fix the plumbing? Well, it re-routed your pipes so that they spray out of the light fixtures. Is that what you meant? No? Well, that’s what the robot thought you meant, and technically, it all works, so, shut up, you needy human. If you want
d) In fact, lemme say that from the perspective of someone who has written a handful of comics (and who has just had two comic projects totally shit the bed recently due to bizarre reasons entirely outside my control, whee), part of the joy of writing the comic is describing a thing and then seeing the artist depict that thing in a way that is, quite honestly, a thousand percent better. With the Art Robot, you see the “artist” depict what you described as a thousand percent weirder. “Um, where is the person’s nose?” you’ll ask the robot, and the robot won’t answer because the robot doesn’t give a shit. And there’s no continuity, not like you get with a human artist. Again, I’m sure AI art will make strides in this space, but at the end of the day what it makes is cobbled together from pre-existing human art. Human art will always be dominant. I say, optimistically, praying to the creative gods. Because I know AI is coming for WORDS, too.
e) The art robot does horror really, really well. You’ll see. YOU’LL SEE.
f) What it can do for writers right now is interesting, too. I’ve been using it myself to both render scenes and characters from books that exist and also things I’m currently writing — which lets me let the robot do some weird dreaming, and while I’m not really using what it dreams, per se, I am finding just the process of that serving as a fertile seed bed for my own ideas and characters. Even just descriptions of things. It’s neat.
g) As such, I’m pondering bringing back the flash fiction challenges using the visuals conjured from the Art Robot as prompts. Sound off in the comments if that is a thing you’d be interested in.
Here’s some of the absolutely whack-ass shit I’ve conjured while borrowing the mind of a deranged Art Robot. All of these are rendered in MidJourney.
(I have a few “series” groups I’ve done too — one on doorways, one on Studio Ghibli versions of Star Wars stuff, so I’ll post those separately, next week.)