AI-generated artwork: Move Over Dalí, it’s DALL-E Time

by | Sep 29, 2022 | Living in the Future | 0 comments

In the earliest days of machine automation (we’re talking about looms here), workers worried that they’d be rendered obsolete revolted. These movements and the actions taken gave rise to the terms sabotage and Luddite. By and large, however, the efforts to stop the march of technology have failed, and now you’re reading a pile of 1s and 0s that have been precisely arranged by millions of microtransistors (costing the jobs of the poor workers who used to arrange our binary into graphical outputs).

Every so often, however, a new industry gets dragged to the chopping block. Telegraph operators. Elevator attendants. Newsies. Telephone operators. Travel agents. The list goes on. Not every profession was utterly wiped out, but at best they saw major cutbacks.

For a long time, the same refrain kept beating like a drum: If you don’t want to be replaced by a computer, do something creative or intellectual. It was the kind of sensible advice that sounds true whether it actually is or not. And for a while, “knowledge workers are safe” appeared to hold true.

Enter tools like DALL-E and Midjourney.

DALL-E and Midjourney are AI art programs. You give the system a text cue, and it churns for a bit before spitting out its interpretation. The results are often whimsical, literalist, and bizarre. They operate in an uncanny valley of artistic expression, where you can usually tell there’s something a little off about them, but oftentimes it’s hard to definitively say it wasn’t drawn by a human.

As an example, here are some Black Ocean-inspired images Kristin created using Midjourney.

Attempting to represent: Venetian Dream (Hotel Caledonia)
Midjourney prompt: “highly detailed digital art, elegant banquet hall, guests in fancy clothes, underwater scene with fish outside the window –ar 16:9”
My caption: I think this one best captures the spirit of the Mission 7 cover (and story). It’s dark and brooding and formal while still looking exotic. Obviously, I stand by our commissioned artwork with Esper in her ballgown and the full cast of suspects, but this is interesting.
Attempting to represent: Vault in the Convocation’s Library of the Plundered Tomes (multiple missions)
Midjourney prompt: “vault with glowing runes on the door containing forbidden magical books inside the library of the plundered tomes, –ar 16:9”
My caption: MAN does this look like a library where you don’t want to fuck around with the librarians.
Attempting to represent: Pharaoh’s Paradise (Sunshine of Your Cult)
Midjourney prompt: “theme park, futuristic, Egypt, hyper realistic, –ar 16:9”
My caption: This really does great with combining the ancient world feel with crass commercialism. Every pyramid looks like it has a ride and gift shop bundled into the ground floor. Oh, and this one was hard to choose–we had so many amazing images. Midjourney’s handling of anything with the term “futuristic theme park” has Kristin encouraging me to write more theme parks. While these are some of the top images we’ve created, we’ve also had some epic fails trying to get specific images in a specific style. Your mileage will truly vary.

For the time being, the artists of the world appear safe.

However, how long before these learning algorithms learn to create, or at least to simulate creation?

For now, I’ll continue to view it as a curiosity. Near term, I may start using it to brainstorm ideas for book covers, or to sketch thoughts that may be easier to interpret than my own abysmal concept artwork. At most, we’ll use them to create images we can’t justify commissioning, like advertising graphics or cool elements from books that we just want to show fans. However, at the same time, I’ll be wondering whether I’m feeding the beast that will eventually devour human artists.

And I’ll also be wondering how long before the machines come for the writers.

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