By Jo Lindsay Walton
NightCafe AI’s response to “Sunflowers, Van Gogh”
Klara and The Sunflowers
This issue’s cover was created by an AI. Or … was it?
Machines have made art for a long time. In the mid 19th century, John Clark’s Eureka machine was dropping perfectly okay Latin hexameter bars on the daily. Harold Cohen’s AARON began scribbling in the 1970s and sketching plants and people in the 1980s.
But with the likes of MidJourney, DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Disco Diffusion, Imagen, and Dream by Wombo, 2022 marks the start of a new era. These AIs accept natural language prompts and produce often startling images. Suddenly the conversation has shifted from what little the AIs can do to what little they can’t do.
The AIs can’t paint complex scenes with many parts, for instance. You’re better off generating the pieces separately and then jiggling them together in Photoshop or GIMP. They can’t paint eyes terribly well, unless your subject happens to be a stoner ghoul. If the moon shines behind your subject’s head, it often bulges strangely, bearing ominous tidings for tonight’s high tide.
Still, the AIs are getting better all the time. Some online art forums are already inundated with spam. There have been instances of AI users setting themselves up as freelance artists, claiming to create the images themselves using traditional methods (Photoshop is now ‘traditional methods’! We are definitely in the future).
Worse still, the rise of AI art has led to the rise of the AI Art Bro. These combat philosophers, who perhaps recently cut their teeth extolling NFTs, love nothing more than to troll freelance artists nervous about next month’s rent. Yet it would be unfair to write off AI art just because it has some disagreeable advocates. Luckily, as science fiction writers and fans, we’re well-equipped to make more nuanced assessments.
Or … are we?
The uncomfortable fact is that science fiction hasn’t been amazingly good at illuminating the ongoing AI revolution. With notable exceptions, we focus on questions like, ‘Can an AI think? Feel? Love? Dream? What does the way we treat machines tell us about how we treat one another?’ These are enchanting and perhaps important questions. But they tend to overshadow AI as it exists within data science and critical data studies, and the huge role it is already playing in everyday life. So maybe science fiction writers could do more to infuse our work with an appreciation of AI as it actually exists?Continue reading “Torque Control: Writing Futures”