Side FX By K Allado-McDowell

Thursday 22nd June, 2023 - Bruce Sterling

A new era of art is dawning, characterized by intelligent machines capable of extending human creativity in ways difficult even to imagine. In the past two years alone, we have witnessed the emergence of a revolutionary new class of generative AI systems, named DALL-E, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion. These tools combine online image archives and deep neural networks that learn from massive collections of data, enabling anyone to render powerfully unexpected images from text descriptions and thereby become an instant self-styled digital artist or art director.

It is not an exaggeration to say that we have entered the age of AI art. The possibility has glimmered on the edge of culture for almost a decade (Artists + Machine Intelligence, the program I established at Google AI in 2016, is one of several art and technology programs exploring artistic applications of AI), but never before have we found ourselves so awash in AI images. Text-to-image engines are uniquely 21st-century tools, setting the texture and tone of an art to come. Here, I catalogue four of their side effects: hallucination, hybridization, mutated language and possession.

The systems accept text prompts and output pictures, translating word into image. They are trained on massive datasets, licensed or unlicensed, often scraped from the web. Engineers call the images they produce hallucinations because they are akin to the hallucinations generated by the human brain, in which a neural system is likewise activated to produce internal images. In this sense, these images are real yet not-real. They are statistical, in other words, likely to occur while not being based on any one actual image. Theirs is the fluid malleability of dreams….