Editorial: A&A and AI

Credit: Dev and Art via Android apps (free) https://appagg.com/android/personalization/ai-art-wallpapers-4k-38072429.html?hl=en

AI. The struggle of humans coming to grips with such a disruptive and transformational technology is very real and will define our time. Have you already noticed that your spell checker and grammar checker–both online and in programs like MS Word–are working differently? That’s due to AI. But let’s talk about art, first. It has relevance.

At Abyss & Apex we’ve started using an AI as a tool for art–not as a substitute for a human being but as a tool. The app our Art Director Bonnie Brunish uses is called Midjourney. I asked her for a summer theme with lemonade and some sort of small magical creatures for our July 2023 “coming attractions” poster, things which she used as prompts. The Midjourney AI created all the elements of this edition’s poster art in two separate renderings, after which she arranged them, scaled them, and added a leg to one of the elves.  Then I asked her to make some small changes.  Here is the result.

She told me that sometimes she needs to heavily Photoshop the AI’s renderings to get what she wants. “As I use it to update illustrations on my website, I spend only minutes sending prompts to Midjourney, and hours working with what it turns out. From my perspective, it’s not much different from using Deposit Photo (ed.: A&A’s stock art supplier), except that it has billions more possibilities, which it will fetch at a prompt–more detailed than a simple search request–and the result will be a unique image that belongs to me, though Midjourney reserves the right to reprint it.”

Then the program combines all the images it was fed to produce something new, so success at finding what you want depends on the amount of data it has to work with. This means Midjourney can render beautiful humans of any ethnic background, but obscure dinosaurs and pterodactyls? Not so much. (Although it did give her a pretty good Andrewsarchus.)

The reason Bonnie uses it is that it can produce the image she has in her mind better (or at least quicker) than she can by hand or with Photoshop. “For instance, I had a dream the other day about a tower in violet flames at the end of a snowy avenue. I tried whipping one up in Gimp, but the version Midjourney gave me was much better. Perhaps, if I got out my oil paints and easel, I could do a still better rendering of my dream, but it would take hours of work, and since there are many illustrations I would like for my website, it simply isn’t practical.”

I’m going to give a caveat as to how this affects fiction and poetry at the end of this next quote, but read it first (emphasis mine):

Bonnie went on to say, “In my opinion, AI assistance for music, art, and writing are the wave of the future, and there is no use fighting the wave. There were reasons not to want photography to replace paintings or cars to replace horses, too, but now we can have both. In my family’s Civil War letters, the soldier on the battlefield writes home requesting a miniature of a loved one, just as WWI or WWII soldiers might request a photograph. What happened to all of those miniature artists? We don’t worry about them, or even think about them any more. Yet a portrait in oils is still valued. Somehow, humanity will adjust to these latest changes, and in another generation, people will probably have no idea what life was like before AI.

“For me, AI helps to make what I picture in my mind take a form I can share with others. It is a tool, extending the power of the human mind. I believe that AI writing programs will also prove to be a useful tool, once they become a little more sophisticated.”

Amen, but that being said there is a widespread and seemingly justified fear that AI writing will eclipse human writing. Perhaps it already has for things like listicles but I envision it more as a research tool. And we writers all know how much time we spend on research; if AI can cut that time significantly and reliably (they’re still working on the reliability part) then it will be a boon to writers.

But the main objection by writers and editors is that, due to cost, AI-written stories will not allow humans to be involved, writers will starve (as if most of them are not already unable to support themselves writing), and that we will drown in a sea of plastic and fake robot-written literary junk food.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we are already dealing with hacks who write “extruded fantasy product” and mindless pulp science fiction. And that AI is just another avenue for already-prolific scammers who are looking for a quick and dishonest payoff. The question, as Neil Clarke so succinctly put it, is whether you can opt out of a rights grab by web scrapings (via watermarks and new rules for intellectual property rights), because, as he states in his draft AI Statement, we need to make it so that AI  “publishers do not have the right to use contracted works in the training of AI or related technologies without contracts that have clauses explicitly granting those rights.” I heartily recommend you read Neil’s statement http://neil-clarke.com/ai-statement/

We at Abyss & Apex are fully behind Neil in this, and are grateful for his leadership on this issue. And we’re reprinting Ken Liu’s “The Perfect Book” next edition to highlight Ken’s treatment of the issue. At the end of his story, human writing triumphs.

We agree with him.

Wendy S. Delmater, Editor

Credit: Dev and Art via Android apps (free) https://appagg.com/android/personalization/ai-art-wallpapers-4k-38072429.html?hl=en#gallery-2


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