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Exploring ethical boundaries in AI-generated art

ethical AI art

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has gone from comic books and sci-fi movies to permeating numerous aspects of our lives, from healthcare to finance, and now is now steamrolling its way through the art world. AI-generated art is a fascinating blend of technology and creativity, where algorithms and neural networks produce works that can rival those of human artists. But can it ever be truly ethical to hand over control to our robotic overlords? And who owns AI art, if it is based so heavily on the art that real people created before it? As this field grows, it brings with it a host of ethical considerations that must be thoughtfully examined.

The rise and rise of AI art

Midjourney is certainly not the first AI art generator. If we exclude the automata of ancient Greece – which probably didn’t generate an image of your dog driving a Ferrari in 15 seconds – the 1950s and 1960s were when the first computer-generated artworks began to emerge. German computer scientist and artist Frieder Nake used a digital computer to create art by programming it to draw random shapes and patterns, producing works that were both abstract and beautiful.

Another notable pioneer was Harold Cohen, a British artist who developed AARON. Initiated in the late 1960s and continuously refined over several decades, AARON could autonomously create drawings and paintings. Cohen’s work with AARON challenged traditional notions of authorship and creativity, as the program’s outputs were seen as collaborative efforts between the machine and its human creator.

Generative adversarial networks (GANs) are the face of AI art today. They represent a significant advancement in AI and machine learning, enabling the generation of highly realistic data, whether it’s sound, video, text, or images—realistic enough that it could feasibly have been created by a human being. 

Who owns AI art?

One of the primary ethical dilemmas in AI-generated art revolves around the concepts of ownership and authorship. Traditional art is intrinsically linked to the identity of the artist. If I draw you a picture of a pelican, it’s clearly my (frankly awful) work. But when a machine creates art, who owns the rights? Is it the programmer who designed the algorithm, the user who input the prompt that it was generated from, or the AI itself?

Current legal frameworks struggle to address these questions because they predate such considerations. In most jurisdictions, AI cannot hold copyrights, which leaves the human contributors to the process to claim ownership. This scenario often leads to disputes and calls for updated legal provisions that can adequately encompass the nuances of AI-generated creations.

Can machines be creative?

Creativity is often seen as a uniquely human trait, involving intuition, emotion, and experience. AI, on the other hand, generates art based on patterns and data it has been trained on – the art that humans have already lived. Does this mean AI art is merely derivative, lacking the authentic spark of human creativity?

While some argue that AI lacks true creative agency, others believe that it offers a new form of creativity — one that is collaborative between human and machine. They see AI as a tool that extends human creative capabilities rather than replacing them.

Ethical use of source material

AI art generation relies heavily on existing works to learn and produce new pieces. AI models are trained on datasets that include copyrighted works, usually without the explicit permission of the original creators. This unconsented use can be seen as a form of intellectual property theft.

The obvious way to combat this is greater transparency and regulation around the datasets used to train AI. Artists should be credited and compensated when their works contribute to the creation of new pieces by AI, or allowed to exclude their work from training datasets.

How society is shaping AI art

AI-generated art also has broader societal implications. The datasets used to train AI models can introduce biases, reflecting and perpetuating stereotypes present in the source material. For instance, if an AI is trained predominantly on Western art, it may fail to produce works that reflect diverse cultures and perspectives.

Additionally, the rise of AI art could impact the livelihoods of human artists. As AI becomes more capable of producing high-quality art, it could devalue the work of human artists, particularly those who rely on commissions and sales to sustain their practice.

What is next for AI-generated art?

As AI continues to evolve, we have to tread these ethical boundaries carefully. The development of clear guidelines and regulations can help ensure that AI-generated art respects the rights and contributions of all involved parties.

A collaborative approach between human artists and AI could lead to innovative and ethically sound creations. By embracing AI as a tool that enhances rather than replaces human creativity, we can explore new artistic frontiers while maintaining the integrity and diversity of the art world.

AI-generated art is a testament to the incredible advancements in technology and its potential to revolutionise the creative industries that we love so dearly. However, with great power comes great responsibility. As we continue to push the boundaries of what is possible with AI, we’ll have to address the ethical implications head-on, ensuring a future where technology and creativity coexist harmoniously.