I first learned about visual art artificial intelligence programs about a year ago, when I discovered one by the name of Wombo Art online. It was a website that could take word prompts from a browser, combine it with an art style of choosing, and generate a picture based off of both. Though I was skeptical of how effective it’d be at first, I decided to try it out- and the very first prompt I ever put in was my own name, T-Wolf.
The result took me by surprise. It turned out much more fruitful and fitting than I believed an AI could make it. Enthused, I started tossing in more prompts, from abstract concepts to whole landscape descriptions. Sometimes it would spit back curveballs from what I thought were straightforward prompts, but I learned to have fun with the unpredictability. The amount of pieces I had saved on my laptop grew with each day, always returning to that site whenever I was bored, setting them on shuffle for my desktop background. For months, I was enamored by what could be visualized with just a few words and even fewer clicks of a mouse. New art styles would be released every now and then too, fueling me further.
After a while, I slowly lost the feeling of novelty at each new creation. Wombo Art was still putting out more styles, but I didn’t like them as much as the older ones, no longer seeming as unique or beautiful as they used to be. Still, here and there I’d still return. But then, I found out a much darker extent to what AI art could do.
During September, I found out that an art competition in Colorado had ended up choosing an AI artwork as the first place winner. It was a huge controversy in the art community, over whether AI art should be considered for art competitions, and how harmful it was to keep developing AI that could make pieces in the blink of an eye, when real-life artists could spend days, weeks, even months on their own. Many didn’t believe it was fair to place AI art on the same level, when it required no effort other than running prompts through a generator, over and over and over until reaching satisfaction.
I stood on that side, holding a similar viewpoint despite knowing the delight of prompting AI art myself. In my reasoning, if something similar happened with AI being able to just immediately generate writing, then I would be incredibly defensive and wary of it. To claim that my work and an AI’s work were on the same level would feel like an insult to how long it took to hone such a human craft. It was easy to empathize with the artists.
And then, how even easier it became, when that empathized fear became reality.
A few weeks ago, I learned that AI writing programs existed as well. My concern came back, but it wasn’t as much as I’d thought it’d be. Often, I would see that the pieces that the programs spit out were amusingly unedited and unworkable, and didn’t really match the wits of dedicated writers that I saw online. I even tried a few programs myself, chuckling whenever I’d insert a dramatic prompt that would be quickly derailed.
But, the other shoe was soon to drop. Those AI programs, both for writing and visual art, don’t have only their own creators’ ideas of art and writing in order to generate pieces. They comb through swaths of the internet, gaining information and input from all the creativity available around the web, using that to hone what they spit out. Everything they can find online is used to create for a given prompt, based on all other works it can find in a similar vein.
The nerve it struck, to realize that those programs have been able to take the freely-made, creative works of millions of users online to churn out content. To realize my own work was part of that, work that I’d spent upwards of months drafting, editing, and perfecting to my own high standards. How wrong it feels, to know that those programs have been collecting others’ hard work for a few years now, in this bid to make creative work more ‘efficient.’ How wrong it feels, to know that so many creators may not even know about how their passions feed into something profoundly unpassionate.
It is not easy to replace true human skill on such a personal and emotional level. But the idea of feeding it into a machine nonetheless, one that could make soulless entertainment with the click of a button, sits unwell on my mind. Artificial intelligence has been increasingly taking over human roles for the past decade, but to realize that we’ve built it up to the point that it’s nearing a mimicry of the human creativity we hold so dear, is a heavy weight on my mind. It’s hard to know what to do, when this rapid, commercialized flood of monotone work and stories is closer than I thought it might be. How uncertain the weight of my own writing skills seem then.
Yet I remain firm that for all artificial intelligence is unyielding and stubborn, we as the humanity that makes it is even more so. We can reach into the depths of our own hearts, our own minds, and touch upon that which a colorless program made for pure efficiency never could. There is a quality to art that is innately human. I remain firm in that they cannot take that away, and cannot replace it with code. Artificial is artificial. But I am, with the hopes and dreams and worries and wants I imbue into my writing, incessant.
**Credits to all the photos goes to Wombo Art.**