A whimsical anime-esque image of a trio flying through the air on a fantastic vehicle
A whimsical anime-esque image of a trio flying through the air on a fantastic vehicle

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Unless you happen to have been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that AI has been in the news a lot lately. Yoshua Bengio–one of the three so-called ‘godfathers’ of AI–recently made headlines when he put out a statement declaring that “[m]itigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” But while it would be reckless to ignore the potential dangers of AI, at the same time, it also has the potential to be a powerful creative force. Many creators have already found innovative uses for AI, such as when Grimes decided to lend her voice to AI-generated songs. Today, we’re going to look at some of the exciting ways generative AI can help fan the fires of creativity.

What is generative AI?

Simply put, generative AI is an AI that is capable of creating something new, whether it’s text, images, or other media. ChatGPT is perhaps the best-known example at the moment. It can produce a wide range of content in an equally diverse array of styles. But there are also AI tools such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion that can produce various types of images. One common feature of all these tools is that they work by having the user input a prompt. They can range from simple (“Write a 500-word blog post on lemurs”) to complicated (“An award-winning photo of an octopus presiding over the House of Lords”). 

A spark to pierce the dark

As any creative will tell you, inspiration can be elusive. There are few things more frustrating than sitting in front of a blank page, desperately waiting for the Muses to start singing in your ear. This is where AI can really shine (think of it like your own personal fire striker!).

Enhancing your creative vision with generative AI

Let’s say you’re a creative writer working on a short story. You’ve hashed out most of it, but your editor feels that one particular scene could use a bit more dialogue. With a generative AI-tool like Sudowrite, you can easily come up with a conversation. While it’s not going to be something you can just plop into your story as-is, it can give you the raw materials that you need to fashion a solution. 

AI can also be a phenomenal tool for brainstorming. For example, once you’ve identified your core question or topic, you can ask a generative-AI tool like ChatGPT a series of short questions to refine your approach. Wired’s writers also use it for things like developing headlines or coming up with story ideas. Lance Cummings suggests using it to generate ideas or questions (“Generate a list of ideas for using AI in the healthcare industry” or “Generate a list of questions related to ethics of AI in the healthcare industry”), or identifying new angles (“Why would [patients] be interested in ethical issues of AI in healthcare?”). For more good advice, check out this article by Ben Syverson

Collaborative creativity: humans and AI as co-creators

Of course, it’s important to remember that AI isn’t the technical equivalent of an Egyptian shabti figurine. You shouldn’t expect to sit back and watch cat videos while generative AI does all the hard work. Generative AI can do wonderful things, but it still needs the human touch to make its output truly shine. Think of it as a partnership–it’s not about handing over control. Rather, it’s about using AI as a tool for refining the creative process. 

  • Manas Bhatia, an architect, used AI to come up with concept art that explores the concept of buildings that grow. “With AI we can directly convert that thought or idea into a tangible outcome. That certainly solves the problem of ‘thought-to-execution' delay experienced by many creatives,” he said to My Modern Met.
  • Georgia Perry, an illustrator, uses Midjourney to devise custom interiors. “More than anything, it’s helping me open my mind,” she told Architectural Digest.  “Often it will generate something I would never have thought of myself. It’s our job as visual communicators to keep pushing ourselves outside the box, so I think that’s really valuable.” 
  • Refik Anadol, an artist, used generative AI to create the colorful backdrops that were seen in the background of the 65th Grammy Awards.
  • Nao Tokui has created an AI DJ. “When I started, my DJ friends got angry,” he told Freethink. “They thought I was trying to automate everything, but that’s not [my] intention, of course. My intention was to use AI to extend my capability as a DJ. Through interaction with the AI, I get new ideas, what I can play, and how to be human in a creative process.”

Ethical considerations of generative AI

Like any tool, generative AI can be misused. There’s obviously a huge potential for plagiarism, but that’s not the only thorny problem. Generative AI works because it’s been trained on existing material. Given the vast scale of these endeavors, this training often takes place without the consent (or even the knowledge) of the original creators.

Last week, we looked at the case of Hollie Mengert and how a Redditor used Stable Diffusion on her work in order to replicate it. In an interview with Waxy’s Andy Baio, she remarked on the mixed emotions this evoked: “I kind of feel like when [the Redditor] created the tool, they were thinking of me as more of a brand or something, rather than a person who worked on their art and tried to hone things, and that certain things that I illustrate are a reflection of my life and experiences that I’ve had. Because I don’t think if a person was thinking about it that way that they would have done it. I think it’s much easier to just convince yourself that you’re training it to be like an art style, but there’s like a person behind that art style.” 

Generative AI also has the potential to threaten the livelihood of some creators. For example, a Skyrim modder has used ElevenLabs’ AI text-to-speech tool to give the protagonist voiced dialogue for the first time. It’s a monumental task–the Dragonborn has over 7,000 lines–and hiring a voice actor to record them would likely be a step too far for most modders. But what happens if those who do have the resources to pay for voice acting (i.e., major developers) jump on the AI bandwagon? If they decide to let their characters speak with synthesized voices, a lot of hardworking voice actors could see their paychecks shrink. 

Of course, these debates are nothing new. As we’ll see next week, technological progress almost always has some downside, and humanity has been wrestling with these issues for centuries. In the meantime, all we can do is try to be intentional about the way we use AI. For some ideas about what that might look like, check out these articles:

Risks and potential rewards of generative AI

The advent of widely available generative AI has been a watershed moment that offers new and exciting ways to create.  With a bit of thought and care, they can cut out (or at least minimize) some of the traditional pain points in the creative process. But if it’s used carelessly, it has the potential to undermine creators by facilitating plagiarism or even taking work away from flesh-and-blood artists. Ultimately, generative AI isn’t an all-knowing and infallible oracle. It’s a tool, and like any tool it must be used with skill and care for best results.

For further discussion of this brave new world we’re in, check out “From promoting progress to protecting innovation: AI’s implications for copyright and fair use.”