Many artists are not completely against the technology but felt blindsided by the lack of consideration for our craft. Being able to imitate a living artist has obvious implications for our careers, and some artists are already dealing with real challenges to their livelihood. Concept artists create works for films, video games, character designs and more. Greg Rutkowski, a hugely popular concept artist, has been used in a prompt for Stable Diffusion upward of 100,000 times. Now, his name is no longer attached to just his own work, but it also summons a slew of imitations of varying quality that he hasn’t approved. This could confuse clients, and it muddies the consistent and precise output he usually produces. When I saw what was happening to him, I thought of my battle with my shadow self. We were each fighting a version of ourself that looked similar but that was uncanny, twisted in a way to which we didn’t consent.
It gets darker. The LAION data sets have also been found to include photos of extreme violence, medical records and nonconsensual pornography. There’s a chance that somewhere in there lurks a photo of you. There are some guardrails for the more well-known A.I. generators, such as limiting certain search terms, but that doesn’t change the fact that the data set is still rife with disturbing material, and that users can find ways around the term limitations. Furthermore, because LAION is open source, people are creating new A.I. generators that don’t have these same guardrails and that are often used to make pornography.
In theory, everyone is at risk for their work or image to become a vulgarity with A.I., but I suspect those who will be the most hurt are those who are already facing the consequences of improving technology, namely members of marginalized groups. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for instance, has an entire saga of deep-fake nonconsensual pornography attached to her image. I can only imagine that some of her more malicious detractors would be more than happy to use A.I. to harass her further. In the future, with A.I. technology, many more people will have a shadow self with whom they must reckon. Once the features that we consider personal and unique — our facial structure, our handwriting, the way we draw — can be programmed and contorted at the click of a mouse, the possibilities for violations are endless.
I’ve been playing around with several generators, and so far none have mimicked my style in a way that can directly threaten my career, a fact that will almost certainly change as A.I. continues to improve. It’s undeniable; the A.I.s know me. Most have captured the outlines and signatures of my comics — black hair, bangs, striped T-shirts. To others, it may look like a drawing taking shape.
I see a monster forming.