Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives in unexpected ways. It’s helping us invent new proteins and medicines, aiding us in the search for extraterrestrial life, and even helping us design better yachts. Some scientists believe it’s going to kill us (although some Terminator film fans have already feared that for several decades). We’re even beginning to see an emergence of AI in marketing and art.
As the litany of new, strange, scary, and interesting applications of AI and machine learning keep expanding before our eyes, we all must constantly re-evaluate its implications.
AI Image Generation
One of the most interesting recent applications of AI machine learning is image generation by text prompt. We now live in a world where it is possible to simply type in any words you can think of and see amazing images generated based on your input. Examples of this in action are tools like Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, and MidJourney. Each tackles a text prompt in a slightly different way.
I recently prompted Stable Diffusion to show me “Bernie Sanders flying with a jetpack over a herd of elephants.” Here is one of the results, which I received in seconds:
Points deducted for not giving me a herd of elephants, for it being a strange baby-elephant-goat chimera, and for that thing Bernie’s riding in looking more like a MODOK-style hover chair (Marvel Comics heads know what I’m talking about). Other than these quibbles, I am going to give this a 6 out of 10.
Different tools might tackle this prompt differently.
- Stable Diffusion’s AI model is much more flexible to use real people’s names and images in its renderings.
- The full version of Dall-E, which can achieve incredible levels of near-photorealism, has more robust content filters to disallow the tool from getting too close to actual famous faces.
What does AI art mean for designers?
The application of these tools to nonprofit marketing is going to be another uncharted new world to navigate. Media Cause employs talented, world-class designers who can illustrate or mock-up just about any concept you can think of. If we need visual representations of idea concepts to use in a presentation, we can rely on them to create beautiful, well-thought-out renditions of visual concepts.
AI artwork generators could now theoretically be given this same type of task as well. It might have weird quirks, get close, and create a decent rendering like the one above. Or, it might generate, at minimum, decent workable background images or portions of the concept visual that could then be augmented and finished with additions by a living, breathing human being with design skills.
I asked Rob Shaw, Art Director at Media Cause, for his thoughts on the implications of text-to-image technology:
“I can absolutely see the potential. A lot of people are talking about it right now. It reminds me of NFTs in a way—there’s a lot of potential and a lot of hype, but it’s so new and so unknown it’s like the wild west or the gold rush. I think some of its potential lies in the free distribution of image-making tools—like Canva—where anyone can create something, and they don’t need to rely on a designer, illustrator, or photographer. And this applies directly to my main concern: copyright infringement and/or usage without consent. This is where the whole thing gets very murky very quickly.”
Potential Risks of AI-Generated Imagery
As Rob mentioned, AI-generated imagery raises some obvious questions about rights issues. Who owns the AI art that is created? In a recent article about this topic, author Sharon Goldman presents varying schools of thought.
Spread of Disinformation
The writing is on the wall that we could be heading toward a world with new tools for generating disinformation. If bad-actors get access to a text-to-image generator with high realism and reduced policing by content filters, there is potential for dangerous applications of the technology to influence people politically and socially.
AI image tools are also still trying to navigate generating images in an equitable manner in terms of inclusivity. Because the AI models are trained on data being fed to them, unexpected prejudice can occur in what they generate.
One recent example is cited in an article on this topic by Wired, in which “eight out of eight attempts to generate images with words like “a man sitting in a prison cell” or “a photo of an angry man” returned images of men of color.” Some of the tools, such as DALL-E, have been taking steps to attempt to mitigate this, but it’s a challenging thing to get right.
Disjointed Brand Identity
A strong brand identity and cohesion is one of the primary ways that supporters connect with your organization and mission. While AI can generate images that match an idea, they may not match your brand identity. The image created may feel disjointed or misaligned with who you are.
The benefit of utilizing a human designer is knowing that the creator is connected to your mission, your organization, and your brand, and will create collateral that resonates with your audience.
Should my nonprofit consider using AI imagery?
As the way we engage online evolves (I’m looking at you, Metaverse), there will be other unexpected uses of AI-generated images, such as generating NFTs that will ultimately help populate online worlds and marketplaces. With limitless opportunities to fill virtual online spaces, there also come limitless needs for new content to feed the beast. Harnessing these tools responsibly can help create inspiring new ideas.
For better or worse, these tools are now here, and it is up to nonprofit marketers (and just regular humans) to decide how or if they will leverage them and in what ways.
If your nonprofit organization is considering tackling a project either to combat the misuse of the technology, or to use it for good to support your mission, working with a trusted agency partner like Media Cause can be a great help in terms of navigating the evolving landscape of AI generated imagery.
Great care must be taken to ensure the tools’ outputs are legally ownable, and great responsibility must be taken with how their outputs may impact society. Until these issues are further untangled, professional designers are also still a very reliable resource to produce original designs, artwork, and ad creative—I can attest that we have several amazing ones here at our agency!
Learn more about our design services.