We’ll get to the toilets in a minute. First, let me tell you a story.
A few weeks ago, I came to a stopping point in my work and decided to reward myself with 30 minutes of mindless entertainment. I could’ve watched YouTube videos, played an online game, or spent some time in the cesspool (AKA Twitter).
Instead, I opted to open an invite to DALL-E 2, an artificial intelligence program I’d heard about from a fellow graphic designer. I logged on and was immediately sucked into THE FUTURE!
Here’s how it works: type anything you want into the prompt box. The AI then magically creates a brand new picture based on your prompt. I typed “a geometric sketch of a bumble bee.”
10 seconds later, here’s what came back:
Mind = Blown.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. The last one was garbage and a few were cut off, but WOW! These were pretty good.
Next, I tried “a giant wave crashing onto a red house”.
Whaaaat? This looks like a real photo (it’s not). The app encouraged me to try specific art styles. So, I tried the same prompt but I added “acrylic painting”.
This is crazy. Remember, nothing you see has been copied or pasted from another graphic. A computer model – a really complex math and programming equation – created this out of thin air like an artist sitting down at a blank canvas. These images have never been seen before. How the heck does it do that? Good question – here’s a video with a “starter” explanation.
Then I just went crazy making taco monsters, tacos eating people, mars colonies, robot stained-glass windows, cowboys and cacti, etc.
Super weird, huh. A lot of results are nonsensical. Some are right on the mark.
Then I discovered my true calling in life. Toilets have always fascinated me as an amazing combination of form and function. What if… “Computer! Show me a room with 1,000 toilets!”
Impressive, but no… something’s too mechanical, too rendered about this. “Computer! Show me a room with a thousand toilets as an oil painting!”
Out came – 7 seconds later– my masterpiece.
My 30-minute break turned into 3 hours. I forced myself to step away from the computer, and I did so as a radically changed person. Computers are now as creative as artists, I thought. And they are way faster. The value of creative work, which I had previously elevated to be the pinnacle of human achievement (and my own personal means of importance and security) was now destroyed. If a computer can do my job, what is my purpose?
My mind was reeling. For days, I thought about AI art, the role of the Artist, and the broader implications in my field and on society as a whole. I was in a daze – abuzz with a jumble of feelings. Excitement. Fear. Creative pleasure. Fun. And panic.
I talked about nothing else. I consumed podcasts, YouTubes, Reddit discussions, whatever. I talked about it with family, friends, mentors, and even strangers. I laughed. I cried. I dug up my list of back-up careers (it’s not very long). I annoyed my cohabitants. I put my wife and kids through a rigorous stress test as I pushed their ability to be patient with me to the very limits.
And then the fever broke.
While the description above is a touch hyperbolic, it was a very surreal couple of weeks for me. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll outline some of the practical takeaways related to AI art, but first, I’d like to reflect on three key lessons I learned while thinking through this whole thing.
Admittedly, AI can’t make the quality of art that would replace my job. It’s not that sophisticated (yet!). The vast majority of results are terrible… some hideously so. However, this technology is in its infant stage – most of this didn’t exist (to the public) even a year ago. And it’s progressing swiftly. How advanced will it be in another year or five? Will I be a baker 10 years from now?
Here’s my three takeaways for today:
- We need to take AI seriously. Or rather, as our society rushes headlong into the future, we must remember that technology properly ordered should serve humanity. Not the other way around. Sadly, it took an incursion into my livelihood to make me stop and think about how other people in other industries are being affected by the same phenomena (writers, trucking, taxis, etc.).
- AI art is a tool. It doesn’t have taste. It can’t tell stories. It can’t express how it feels to be human. It can’t “read the room.” It can’t make sense out of life. But it CAN and will be a powerful asset in the creation process. Watch out for an explosion of creativity in the next few years as the barriers to game-changing technology continue to fall.
- Lastly, I realized that too much of my identity comes from being a creative person. Way too much. I know this to be true because when I imagined for a moment that my superpower (creating stuff) might be taken away, I felt lost. That was a disordered way to view myself and my role in the world. This is a business blog so won’t I preach, but this experience was a good reminder to me that my identity is not in my work, but in my role as a child of God, husband, father, friend, neighbor and community member.
So back to AI art. What did I learn about it? In my experimentation, I’ve discovered some pros to using AI art as a tool:
- It’s fun.
- It’s addictive. I read somewhere that it’s like a “slot machine for art.”
- It’s great for brainstorming. Have an idea? Type it up and see what comes out.
- It’s easy, fast, and free.
And, there are cons:
- It’s not super practical at the moment. It’s hard to make the AI do exactly what you want it to do.
- It can’t create consecutive images, so it’s not possible to truly tell a story.
- There are many legal and ethical questions that have not been resolved or tested.
So, what’s the future of AI art? Where are we headed? I have no idea. But I know that while the tools may be getting easier, nothing can replace human ideas and passion. People need and are fascinated by other people. A computer will never replicate that (I think).
If you’re interested in playing around with AI tools, I recommend starting here.
Have a great week,