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The Ethics of AI Art: Addressing The AI Generated Elephant in The Room

Updated: Jun 27

With the debate over AI ethics raging on, we've decided to address the AI generated elephant in the room and discuss the complexities behind this revolutionary and controversial new generative AI art form.

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The Staying Power of AI Art

Like it or not, AI art is here to stay in our world of rapidly advancing AI technology. Generative AI models and AI art generators have allowed everyone who uses these artificial intelligence tools to create amazing AI artwork quickly and effortlessly. And therein lies a huge part of the ethical problem with this new medium of artificial intelligence art - it challenges longstanding notions of human artistic value and compensation.

The days of highly skilled human artists commanding premium pay for producing high-quality creative pieces that only their innate, God-given talents could achieve is now being threatened by these new and powerful AI capabilities in machine learning art generation. No longer does one need years of training to render photorealistic scenes or illustrate surreal, imaginative concepts. With just a clever text prompt, AI can conjure up practically any visual imaginable.

The True Controversy: Inspiration vs Infringement

The true controversy around the ethics of AI art arises from the argument that AI companies scraping and ingesting vast data troves to train their machine learning models has raised serious concerns of copyright infringement and lack of compensation for original artists whose work was used.

However, one could argue that this is simply the artificial intelligence counterpart to what the human brain of every artist does naturally - take in a wealth of surrounding information and inspiration from the artistic works of those who came before, in order to create their own unique new artwork that creatively synthesizes and reinterprets that inspiration into something novel.

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This is where the ethical lines around AI art begin to blur into philosophical questioning. Just as human artists are inevitably influenced by studying and being exposed to others' art styles and creative works, so too are the AI models in machine learning trained on and influenced by existing artwork databases they ingested during the model training process.

The key ethical debate lies in whether this artificial intelligence process constitutes legal fair use and permissible inspiration, or if it rather crosses an ethical line into uncompensated plagiarism and infringement by the AI art companies developing these generative AI capabilities. There are valid arguments on both sides of this AI ethics issue that must be carefully weighed.

The Exciting AI Art Frontier

Regardless of where one falls on the ethical debate, there is little doubt that AI image generation has rapidly emerged as one of the most exciting and controversial new frontiers in AI technology. User-friendly tools like DALL-E, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and other advanced AI art generators now allow even complete novices to create realistic images, digital artwork, graphics, and multimedia simply by inputting descriptive text prompts.

This democratization of creativity offers numerous societal benefits but also raises important ethical questions about artificial intelligence's role and impact that must be thoughtfully navigated as this new art paradigm unfolds. Just as previous technological revolutions like the Internet, personal computing and image editing software upended their respective domains, so too will generative AI upend how we create and perceive art in the digital age.

The Promise and Potential of AI as an Artistic Tool

Much like how digital tools and software like Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator catalyzed a revolution for art and graphic design by allowing editing and image manipulation on the digital canvas, today's AI art generators have the potential to be similarly transformative creative tools for human artists and content creators.

These powerful AI models deploying machine learning capabilities can augment human creativity by instantly generating and iterating on rough visual concepts, saving immense time compared to traditional sketching and prototyping methods. Artificial intelligence provides a potent additive force to enhance creative workflows rather than necessarily replacing them outright.

For experienced professional artists and designers operating under tight deadlines, this AI-assisted workflow can alleviate intense time pressures and open new creative avenues they may not have otherwise explored or had bandwidth for. Novices with no formal art training can now experiment with and explore their artistic expression like never before by leveraging generative AI art's abilities

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The environmental benefits of AI art are also quite appealing from a sustainability perspective given the reduced physical equipment, materials transport, and resource needs compared to traditional studio-based art practices. As a digital art form, AI art provides a greener way to produce creative works at scale.

Learning and Improving Through Implementation

At its core, the underlying artificial intelligence algorithms powering AI art generators are continuously learning and improving through increased usage, implementation and exposure to more data over time. As more human artists and creators leverage and provide feedback on these tools, the outputs will only become more accurate, refined and usable for real-world creative applications - enabling whole new forms of digital media and artistic expression.

When thoughtfully deployed and integrated alongside the inherent creative talents of human artists, rather than simply aiming to replace them outright, AI art generators can open up new avenues to augment, accelerate and expand the boundaries of creativity - just like how digital cameras, editing software, and other modern technologies empowered artists in previous eras.

The Backlash Against AI Art

Of course, the understandable major backlash and public skepticism around early iterations of new art forms leveraging technological progressions is not a new phenomenon. This was captured well in a 2014 article highlighting the intense struggles a digital artist endured when using novel software tools like Photoshop in the early 2000s to create their artwork.

The writer vividly describes the backlash and dismissive skepticism they faced from traditional art teachers and established artists who simply could not fathom the idea that these new digital art tools were anything more than gimmicky tricks for "hacks" who couldn't really draw or create legitimate art through classical means. Art instructors denigrated digital art as a passing fad, claiming programs like Photoshop would never gain traction or be taken seriously as a true artistic medium.

This atmosphere of derision mirrored the initial cultural resistance in the 1990s when pioneers like John Lasseter first introduced computer animation to traditional animation studios like Disney. It took years for the innovative artists leveraging these new technologies to prove their creative works were just as valid and skillful as any other accepted art form.

An Unexpected Shift in Perspective

Interestingly, the writer eventually had a philosophical awakening and realization that they themselves had subconsciously become the very same skeptic rejecting and dismissing new digital art trends like photobashing as being inauthentic or lacking true human artistry - despite previously having to vehemently fight and prove the legitimacy of their own digital paintings against similar criticisms from traditionalists.

This sobering full-circle moment taught the author a valuable lesson about not being so quick to dismiss or write off new art forms and creative innovations just because they differ from one's own preferred tools, mediums or personal definitions of what constitutes "real art." It's the unending cycle of the old guard resisting emerging movements until they can no longer be ignored.

The AI Art "Witch Hunt" Heats Up

In the current day, the rise of AI-generated art and its integration into major media franchises and creative works continues to spark this same fierce pushback and raging ethical debate within the global artistic community over the role and impact of artificial intelligence in art.

The fire has been significantly stoked by high-profile human artists publicly questioning and calling out whether major companies and brands like DC Comics and Marvel have been secretly or improperly employing AI art tools without transparency or sufficient disclosure.

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These mounting allegations and lack of clear policies have fueled a sort of "witch hunt" atmosphere, with digital artists and creators being intensely scrutinized and accused of utilizing AI tools like Midjourney or DALL-E to produce recent published comic book artwork, concept designs, or creative assets - despite many publicly sharing time-lapsed videos proving their painstaking traditional human-driven processes.

Larger entertainment companies seem increasingly open to at least exploring the integration of AI art tools, with titans like video game developer Wizards of the Coast getting called out by fans for allegedly using AI-generated artwork for iconic franchises like Magic: The Gathering that have historically relied solely on meticulously hand-painted art by skilled human artists.

AI Art Crosses Into Gaming

The trend of incorporating AI-generated art elements has rapidly crossed over into the video game industry as well. When renowned Japanese developer Square Enix revealed it had used AI art tools like Midjourney AI art generators to create some of the in-game background art assets and graphics for its recently-released action game Fortnite parody "Foamstars" - it reignited heated discussions around AI ethics.

Other major marquee game releases like High on Life have also incorporated AI-generated art elements into their development process in some capacity. However, leading online game distribution platforms like Steam have firmly drawn a line in the sand and categorically refused to host or sell any games on their platform that contain any AI-created assets whatsoever due to the legal ambiguities and uncertainties around ownership and copyright stemming from generative AI art.

Navigating the Complexities of AI Ethics

However, the ascent of AI art also presents multi-faceted ethical challenges for artificial intelligence that must be carefully considered:

Copyright and Plagiarism

Since AI models are trained on vast datasets of existing images, there are serious AI ethics concerns around potential copyright infringement. Models may reproduce protected artistic elements without credit or compensation. Even if not directly copying, it is argued that AI outputs derive too much inspiration from original artworks, raising AI ethics questions.

Workforce Impact

The rise of AI art generators has sparked fears that human artists and designers could see diminished job prospects if companies prioritize AI over human creators. At minimum, workforce roles will shift with AI's creative capabilities in machine learning. Balanced integration that augments rather than replaces will be crucial for ethical AI art.

Unseen Data Labelers

The development of artificial intelligence relies on poorly paid global workers manually labeling data to train AI systems. These "data labelers" work excessive hours for low wages to categorize the staggering data needed to train machine learning algorithms, with little oversight raising AI ethics concerns.

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The Path Forward: Upholding AI Ethics

As AI art tools like generative AI models become more powerful and widely adopted, open dialogue and proactive efforts to uphold ethics in AI must be prioritized for artificial intelligence technology.

In the case of Data Labelers, making this labor more visible and instituting accountability measures are a crucial first steps. In 2019, data labelers in Kenya went on strike demanding better pay and unionization from Silicon Valley's outsourcing firms and the EU's proposed AI Act legislation aims to restrict misleading AI systems training practices and require transparency around data labeling workforce conditions. Also, The Partnership on AI has set guidelines for responsible sourcing of training data, including ensuring fair labor standards and worker privacy.

There's no denying the immense creative potential that AI art technology unlocks. But as this powerful new canvas for expression is embraced, it must have ethical guardrails to prevent misuse and uphold accountability to human artists working with AI art generators and AI models. When thoughtfully applied, generative AI can augment creativity like previous technological leaps while upholding AI ethics.

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If you'd like to know more you can head over to for a curated collection of today's most popular, most liked AI artwork from across the internet. Plus explore an extensive array of AI tools, complemented by comprehensive guides and reviews, on our AI blog.



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