Is it OK to take organic human artwork without consent and build a machine to create visual artifacts in the same style and expression? Is it OK to make money from it? Can we restrict access to it, or does it belong to mankind? Do artworks created by an AI have any value? Can only moral flesh-and-blood humans create art? Can the AI be compared to a paintbrush or Photoshop, just another tool used by artist to create?

Today it seems we only have questions, no answers.  

The ethics debate gets emotional quickly. Doctors, copywriters, programmers, musicians, designers, influencers, brokers, teachers, animators, lawyers, accountants - affecting every aspect of society.

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior". (Wikipedia)

Neural Networks changes everything, the legal frameworks and moral judgements will always lag behind, they can never anticipate, only react.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and creator of the first web browser Mosaic, sees AI-powered art as a glorious golden age.

Tweeet by Marc Andreessen

Neural Networks mimics the function of our brain

We feed the neural network some kind of input, and the network makes a guess. With a method of telling it how well it did the network will adjust and try to make a better guess next time. After a while the network will make very good predictions. All neural networks needs some kind of input.

Image by Google CC-4.0

For the Midjourney AI the training input was text and images,  the network generates images from text prompts. The prompt "photorealistic cat" produces a photorealistic cat such as the cover image for this post.

There are few limits to what Midjourney can generate

The text prompt "A viking monkey drinking a beer in a pub, manga style" results in these four variations.

Image by Midjourney prompted by @Mathieu Laplacett

But how did Midjourney learn to do this? By processing millions of images available on the Internet. Some of these images were not in the public domain, they were created by artists who perfected their art, style, and skill over many years.

Understandably creators are upset

Midjourney AI has learned the artist's individual style, the unique feeling and expression. Here are some comments from Twitter..

Please look into the data sets of what you’re using. They’re not ethically sourced, and it’s become a huge issue in the artist industry. I’d be happy to help with resources on this if needed. But 100% please look into what the artist community is saying.


For the sake of artists who have had their art ripped from them to be fed into these programs without consent, don't use this. For the sake of artists who are being accused of theft for THEIR OWN WORK that someone stole to finish in AI, don't use this

In November 2022 a class-action law­suit was brought against Sta­bil­ity AI, DeviantArt, and Mid­jour­ney by Matthew Butterick for their use of Sta­ble Dif­fu­sion in "remixing the copyrighted works of millions of artists whose work was used as training data."

One response is that copywriters have been through this already -  enter a text prompt and get well written copy. Here's "How to feed a crocodile" by Neuro-flash AI

In addition, feeding crocodiles can also help to deter them from attacking humans or livestock. If they know that there is an easy food source available, they are less likely to see us as potential prey. This can help to reduce the number of attacks that occur each year.

The writing style and tone-of-voice embraced by the AI - it had to start from somewhere.  They all have to be trained on existing data.

Programmers are surprised find their work showing up in code generated by Github Copilot, a programming-AI by Microsoft. The original work distributed under a GPL open-source license requires anyone using it to credit the author, something Copilot is not doing, or possibly unable to do.

Generated by Midjourney - prompt by @javilop

Who owns the artwork created by an AI?

The generated AI image is a blend of many images & styles - and the minds of software architects, programmers and trainers who enabled the AI system.

A Twitter thread by @hankgreen was the inspiration for this blog post. He turned his account private for a while "Taking a break because Twitter seems to be more and more on the wrong side of the battle of self righteous outrage vs nuance and complexity."  but is tweeting again, not touching AI art controversy.

Possibly we can learn from the introduction of the printing press. Dr. Richard Scott Nokes, professor of medieval literature at Troy University wrote

The printing press didn't exactly put monks or scribes out of work. Monks support their calling in a lot of different ways, so it isn't like the printing press put them out of business. [...] Also, you have to remember that the printing press is essentially only useful for mass production -- just think of all the things you handwrite every single day. I think it's more fair to say that the printing press transformed the job of the scribe.

Artists are getting accused of using AI

Artwork created by Stable Diffusion and Midjourney AI perfectly emulates the style of the original artist, which is what happened to @kochi003s

Exceptions are not exceptional

Critically, an AI can not embrace common sense. Yejin Choi, AI researcher and 2022 recipient of the MacArthur grant, explains in New York Times

Let me give you another example: You and I know birds can fly, and we know penguins generally cannot. So A.I. researchers thought, we can code this up: Birds usually fly, except for penguins. But in fact, exceptions are the challenge for common-sense rules. Newborn baby birds cannot fly, birds covered in oil cannot fly, birds who are injured cannot fly, birds in a cage cannot fly. The point being, exceptions are not exceptional, and you and I can think of them even though nobody told us. It’s a fascinating capability, and it’s not so easy for A.I.

I believe it needs a human to be of any value - it knows nothing about the world it exists in and the consequences of its actions. Does it make sense to "feed crocodiles to reduce the number of attacks"? What do you feed them with? Is it realistic? Does feeding possibly attract more crocodiles?

AI and humans will be creating together. It's just a machine, anyway. Doesn't know anything about fear, suffering, hate, hunger, ecstasy, loneliness and our existential condition. It can never be real, only imitate life.

An AI is always sure, never hesitant or ambiguous. Deeper insights into the AI's world can be found in the research paper Talking About Large Language Models.

The real issue here is that, whatever emergent properties it has, the LLM itself has no access to any external reality against which its words might be measured, nor the means to apply any other external criteria of truth.

Midjourney image prompted by @artz_astral