A series of Crikey logo variations created by AI (Image: Supplied)


Regular readers will know that I rarely gush about technology. In a previous edition of WebCam, I went as far as explaining why I identify as a neo-Luddite. I can’t remember the last time playing with a new gadget or app gave me a sense of frisson.

Until now. Like seemingly every other tech reporter, I’ve been experimenting with an artificial intelligence bot that creates images from a text prompt, OpenAI’s DALL-E 2, and it’s hard to express the glee that comes from playing with it.

(Image: Supplied)

Here’s how it works: you describe something in normal everyday language (like “Godzilla at Vivid festival in Sydney”) and DALL-E 2 will generate six versions of what it thinks you were describing.

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The underlying technology is a neural network — which basically means an artificial intelligence trained to make connections in a data set so that it can guess connections in the future — but it feels like magic (or dare I say human? Only kidding) because its output seems like it understands what you’re asking for.

When you ask for, say, “a koala at school”, the literal response we’ve come to expect from a computer would be something like a picture of a koala physically located in front of a school. What DALL-E 2 spat out for me is more sophisticated. It provided a series of photorealistic images of a koala sitting at a desk behind other students, opening an exercise book in a classroom, even in front of a chalkboard. There’s some kind of understanding of the relationships between objects, actions, and even aesthetics.

The DALL-E 2 presents different concepts of prompts, like “koala at school” (Image: Supplied)

It excites me because this feels like another incredible tool for creating and remixing culture. It facilitates creativity. Can’t draw or photoshop? Why not just generate something from nothing. It won’t put artists out of business — we’ve seen time and time again through history that even very good imitations of humanity can never replace it — but it could help them by providing prompts or early drafts to work from.

AI can generate prompts for art but won’t replace them — see this image generated for “a logo for Crikey” (Image: Supplied)

Taking this technology to its logical next step is the idea of artificially generated video or even virtual realities. That seems possible now although who knows how long it could take.

Here’s the obligatory “concerns” bit. This technology has serious potential for misuse. The firm behind it is slowly rolling out controlled uses to limit potential harms, but the risks are obvious: this will be used to create pictures of people without their consent, images that are indistinguishable from life to deceive or are intended to hurt or insult. There’ll be other non-obvious harms too.

“Australian Prime Minister, impressionist” reflects the biases of the AI by only showing white men (Image: Supplied)

For now, however, I want to celebrate something that gives me a sense of wonder and reminds me why I fell in love with technology in the first place.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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