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April 6, 2023

AI Revolution: What should writers and artists do? Part 1: Images

AI Revolution: What should writers and artists do? Part 1: Images

Where in all the fantasy worlds is the best place to be an illustrator?

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The tidal wave of AI art and AI generated text is upon us. What should writers and artists do about it? Author Julia Golding talks to Pete Williamson, an illustrator, to work out what is fair to creatives. Is there any way this can be stopped before it sweeps creatives away, or would that be like King Canute trying to stop the tide? If it is here to stay, what should the creatives be asking for in the way of copyright protection? In this two-part conversation we look at the pros and cons of these new capabilities. The first half is devoted to what human artists and writers do in the creative space, as well as the emergence of AI images and fair usage of them. The second part turns our attention to AI generated prose and poetry. Julia and Pete also consider the best place in all of fantasy in which to be an illustrator.

To see Pete's work, please go to:
For Julia's books visit:
To read the two articles that Julia and Pete mention visit the Getty Images case and for the Romance Writers' dilemma

[Music] Hello and welcome to Myth Makers. Myth Makers is the podcast for fantasy fans and fantasy creatives brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. My name is Julia Golding, I'm an author but I also direct the activities of the Centre and today I'm joined by a good friend called Pete Williamson who is an illustrator and artist and we first met because he was illustrating one of my books, which is a rather nice moment for writers when we get to meet other creatives. So today, our theme is trying to find a way through the new phenomenon of AI-generated images and text, because we both have skin in the game, so to speak. So first of all, what we're going to do is just talk a little bit about what a real life person does as a creative process, and then have a look at the issues that the new AI world of creativity presents, looking at its pros and cons. So first of all, Pete, you have some most wonderful imagery, which I love. How would you describe your artistic style and how has it evolved over time? I mean, it's described for me as kind of being gothic, which is odd. I kind of understand it, I've never been like a goth type person, but it's, it's very, it's mainly black and white. My best work is in black and white. And it's quite classic in a way. I think my favourite illustrator is still John Tenniel, who did the Alice books for Lewis Carroll. I loved that, that precision of draftsmanship, but also the strangeness of it. I loved it. I I love the idea of applying that draftsmanship to some, to absolutely weird and kind of a dreamlike atmosphere. So I've always been trying to capture that. There's lots of things in the mix. There's asterisks, there's wizarding chips, there's war comics from when I was 11. And then there's American underground comics, which as a children's book illustrator, I tend not to mention because they can be quite obscene in a way, but you know, they, they were kind of quite influential because they were, again, they're very stylistically diverse and the draftsmanship was always really impressive. And I didn't actually go to college, I kind of did that thing of just being in a room and drawing and drawing and drawing until things started to look how I wanted them to So did you have a stage when you were actually literally copying somebody else's style? So did you? Yeah. How did that happen? Were you copying the illustrations to see how it felt to put the lines down or were you drawing in the style of Tenniel or somebody? I, yeah, I was, I was drawing in the style of sometimes very early on, copying pictures from, from comics. And then just, yeah, and then just trying to apply that style to the ideas I was getting from, from the stories. And these weren't things that were being published, they were like your training? Is that? Yeah, yeah, very much so. Your informal training? Yeah. Yeah. So at one point I was kind of doing this, the dark stuff that was inspired by American alternative comics from the 60s and the 80s, which had a connection to kind of American alternative punk culture. And at the same time I was, I was looking at children's picture books because I'd got the idea that, well, you know, taking my love for drawing, it has to go into a commercial area. So I thought children's picture books might be somewhere to go. I'd love Dr. Seuss. And I, you know, I pulled over those picture books for years. So for quite a few years, I had these two strands that were separate, whereas I was learning to draw this really quite cute stuff with lots of little kids playing with dinosaurs in gardens. - Yeah. - At the same time doing work, which was perhaps getting quite eerie. And, you know, Edward Gorey was a big influence in the early nineties. And then gradually these two strands started to kind of gel and move together. And I was starting to do work that people have told me since it's kind of, you know, they say strange, but beautiful, or, you know, it's quite weird stuff. It's also cute. it's, I seem to have created this balance between stuff that can be quite odd, but also endearing, which has, which has been great on lots of the illustration projects I've had. It's just been my voice, in a way. So that was the style that really suited a short series of books I did about a Victorian little boy called Mel Foster, who was like a superhero idea. It was like Avengers set back in Victorian period with the second generation monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula, those sorts of characters. And it was, your pictures had exactly the right world where it was suitable for children, but had that atmosphere and edge. And I imagine you can push that either way, depending on what your, what the product is. It's not just one thing, but it goes with the scale that you're on, I suppose. Yeah. I did an exhibition a few years ago where I went away from children's books into, but using that style to, to kind of address what I, what I was saying were like adult concerns and not your normal adult stuff that, you know, sex and drugs and rock and roll, that kind of the cliched stuff, but, but kind of anxiety. And I kind of used the art to look into my heritage, which I found out from being adopted. I found out about my adoption that a grandparent had come over from Poland and started the Second World War. So it was interesting to use my children's book art to kind of investigate ideas of displacement and, and kind of fleeing danger and that kind of idea, I was able to use that, that black and white style to kind of really go into those ideas. And it was really interesting. And then shortly after that, I was I was using the sweeter side of my art to, you know, kind of entertain children in book workshops and, you know, they don't want to see sinister, eerie art, you know, well to an extent they like a bit of it and else, but yeah, but to go and do something that's funny and goofy and daft and is art as entertainment. So it's nice to have those, to be able to move between those, those poles, I suppose. Yeah. So would you say that there's a distinctive Pete Williamson, like if you look at a picture, you know you've done it and you could probably somebody else like your agent could say, oh yeah, that's Pete's work. Like in the same way that someone looks at a Rembrandt and says, that's Rembrandt and they look at a Van Gogh and they say, that's a Van Gogh. Is there a Pete Williamson, indefinable, je ne sais quoi about your drawings? - I think there is and I think it's to do with the use of, I kind of don't stint on the Indian ink. That's kind of, for children's books, there's quite a lot of black in there and shading and just getting, someone once said, I created the most colourful black and white picture she'd ever seen, which I thought was really interesting. It's just a lot of use of, you know, lighting effects where's kind of odd to describe, I suppose, because it's such a, it's just an intuitive thing by this point. (EP) So that's the equivalent of the brushwork, but would you say there's also an attitude, I suppose it's the person behind it I'm thinking about here, because of the nature of what we're discussing, would you say there was an approach to characters in particular, the way children are shown, the way dragons are shown, whatever, which which has come out of your relationship to the things you're drawing? Yes, I think, I think in a way, I mean, I'm doing a graphic novel at the moment of a character that I had, was a successful book series a few years ago. And I was looking at him earlier and he's basically just like a, a small child that's kind of really on edge in the world. And I wonder, I think I'm putting some, that seems to be my character, I think. And I think I'm, I'm always capturing a sense of perhaps unease. Characters tend to kind of not look that comfortable with what's going on. And partly that's because the writers they put me with are also working in that area where things are slightly odd and off key. And, you know, the characters don't really know what on earth, it's almost like a sense of threat underlying the stories. So I think the art in a way captures that, there's a sense of things aren't, things aren't quite what they're supposed to be. I think that's what it, what I'm mainly capturing. And when I was doing the art pieces, I was kind of looking into that as well. There was always an element in an image where something was wrong. Like I did an image of a girl running across a field and it was all in at nighttime. So she was almost like illuminated, this lone figure kind of fleeing across a landscape. that I did the moon black, and it just gave it a sense of oddness and things not being quite how they should be. So I think I found out a while ago, I found out I had ADHD. And I think that's been coming through all, all these years, this sense of not quite, things not quite being right. Yeah. And of course, there's that wonderful Rich Weirdon, when he wrote the Percy Jackson series, he made Percy an ADHD sufferer because he has the extra sort of awareness of the Greek deity world that's just out of view of everybody else. You know, that sense of being on edge, something, you know, a minotaur is about to leap out, which was a lovely way of explaining that phenomenon. So do you actually, when you come down to, we've talked about the attitude and the learning process, when you actually come down to the art, do you use any, are you a sort of pen and ink scanner in person or do you use an iPad or some kind of digital assistance? How does the the actual work happen? It's, I'm very, very, very old school. It's, it's watercolour, paper, pen and ink, Indian ink, and black watercolour. And that's it. It's, I mean, I, I worked for an animation company, I did a lot of work on, on Photoshop. And I really found and I think it's to do with the ADHD, I found it difficult to kind of create because there were no limits. It wasn't, you know, I've got a pen and a pencil and a pot of ink and some paper, it was, it was just enormous what you could do, you could do something it was wrong, get rid of it, do something else. But also, interestingly, you'd have no trace of what got wrong. So you couldn't work from it. It was every time you cleared something away, you were, it was a blank slate again. And I think for ADHD, people having that just limitless choice, just means you're never really making decisions. It's always you can always do something else, add something, take something away, change colour, the end of the day, you might think you've created an image and next day you come in, change everything. Whereas, because I'm limited with, with the materials I use, it just feels there's just a focus there, which feels far more, far more creative things get done. There's a, you know, the scratchiness of the nib and the watercolour soaking in and the, you know, the paper piling up on the desk. It's far more physical material. So I've, I've seen all the Procreate things coming up on social media. And while it's kind of, you know, I I can be really impressed by it. I've never really felt that I want to go into it. It hasn't got that feel for me that I think would work. - Yeah. - Yeah, it just seems as too much. - You're the perfect person to talk it to about this then because you are at the end of a scale, which is, yeah, we need the physical hands-on illustrator approach for you to work. So drawing a parallel, 'cause we're going to be talking about the sort of images generated by AI as well as the text generated by AI. So looking at the sort of parallels for my rise to be a writer, it started off similar to you, obviously, a primary school, we're all taught to paint and we're all taught to write, hopefully. And for me, that initial phase was very much, I would write what I was reading. So if I was reading the Narnia books, I would then write stories like the Narnia books. I was reading The Famous Five, I would then write stories like The Famous Five. This is the tween, you know, the pre-teen stage. Then I carried on reading and writing, but it then became more like an academic reading and writing, writing essays, you know, all that stuff. I wasn't particularly writing so much in my late teens, early twenties. It wasn't until I had a bit of a gap later on in after having a child that I actually started writing again because I had an audience. I was doing writing for academic purposes. I was doing writing for a work context, but the actual creative, let's tell a story hadn't been happening. So looking at the beginnings of my professional career, I was already moving towards my own voice. I wasn't copying people. I got ideas from reading other things and very often they would be, "I don't want to do that, so what do I want to do?" It's quite useful to have, "I don't like that style, so actually my choice is." And I'm a terrible person for if I don't like how a film finishes or how a TV series is going or a book, I will say, "No, what should have happened?" Actually, one of the things I was trying my brain out on was the Harry Potter series because that came out quite slowly, if you remember. And we all knew that there was going to be seven books or something. So I was always rewriting the end. I was thinking, "Well, how's it going to go from here?" Yeah, what's the story logic? Because there is a certain sum underneath a story. Another podcast is, was I right or not? I got a couple of key things right. Anyway, so I was sort of inspired by the work of other people. And of course, because I give so much of my time to Tolkien, I was very inspired by the Lord of the Rings. I've never sat down to write a Lord of the Rings lookalike, a sort of in the world of or a sort of sideways step where it's really Lord of the Rings, but I just give it my own name. So I'm not interested in doing that because the sort of Tolkien world where you create something at such detail is not where I am creatively. I like to tell lots of stories in lots of different places, lots of different reasons, historical, contemporary, and so on. So though you can be inspired by other artists, other writers, you don't necessarily want to be them. You want to do what they're doing in the sense of produce your own work, but you don't want to be them. So I'm not copying them. So my other hero is Jane Austen. I don't want to write a Jane Austen novel. So when I am writing, the actual, after years and and years of reading of stories, doing my own little efforts when I was younger, when I actually can't come to writing, I'm fairly straightforward in how I do it. I do write straight onto a computer rather than longhand. But because I know how to touch type, I'm not thinking about the mechanics of writing in that way. It's as though it's going straight my brain onto the screen. There isn't awareness of the physical. I don't have that, you know, I'm sure some people are inspired by the actual movement of the pen. That's not something that matters to me. And the place I'm in in my head when I'm writing feels a bit like meditation or prayer or something. It's a kind of space where I can lose sense of time. So if I'm really in a story, I can be sitting very still. It's terrible for health. I can be sitting really still and the whole afternoon will go and something breaks in and you think, "Where have those three hours gone?" And that's the most creative space I'm in. And do you get like that when you're really in a picture that there's a sort of... almost like time just stretches and just disappears, the boundaries disappear until you're aware of it again. Yeah, it's quite a magical space isn't it? You're in this, I mean the antithesis of that is when I'm having difficulty drawing something and spend seven seconds drawing a line and then feel exhausted and have to go away and have a cup of tea. But yeah, when you spend hours, I was doing it last night actually, I just spent hours you know, with a Philip Glass opera on in the background. So that was just churning away in the background. And it just, I just spent hours kind of working on the project I'm doing now. And then suddenly it's kind of, you know, you look up, it's quarter to 10. And then you look up again, and it's quarter past 12. But yeah, and just kind of create, they're saying that your creation kind of just emerge in front of you. There's just something really hypnotic about it as well. When it when it's going well, I think. Yeah, when it doesn't go well, then it then becomes the insult of the inanimate object. So you know, the pen that breaks the computer that is updating and won't let you in or has lost your stuff. You get really annoyed I find, probably it's just me, but I get really annoyed with inanimate objects who were standing in my way, because everything goes wrong. Then you stub your toe, then, you know, it's like the world turns against you. So that's the sort of experience of us two as creatives. And again, I'm not using, I suppose I'm using a word processor, aren't I'm using the internet for searches, but I'm not generating any text via...I'm not using even predictive text. I hate that. I'm just working's my words going down. So, let's move on to thinking about the potential of the AI, artificial intelligence version of what we do. So Pete, when I asked you on this, because of your very hands-on approach, you hadn't particularly done anything with any AI, presumably on both sides, either text or imagery. So I have used AI-generated art for...the reason I use it is for web presence. So I can't, for the Oxford Centre of Fantasy, we can't afford to pay for bespoke illustrations every time we put up a post, but we may just want something sitting behind our title that says, "This is about." So for today's one, if you were doing an AI generated image sitting behind it on YouTube, I might put into one of the generators, a computer drawing a picture, and it would come up with a suggestion for it. I enjoy using those-- the images can be quite inspiring. So for example, today I was thinking about planning a room inspired by nature. There's a real room, which we're planning to decorate. And I thought, oh, well, what would it be like if you imagined this room as a woodland grove? So you can put into an AI generator a living room like a woodland grove. And because it's so random, it will come up with its own version of that. And I looked at that and thought, well, I like a bit of that and I like a bit of that. So that's a good design idea. And then there'll be another step on from that where I go and think, well, how do you realize that in the real world? And so I can use it to spark ideas. It's a bit similar in my mind to those story cubes you get, which they use in schools where you have a bag of dice you shake and a picture comes out of a skeleton, a shoe and a, uh, I know a shepherd and you have to make a story up about it. It has that feel. It's like a lottery. Um, I, it's not so that you can, I could go and pay a designer, but I can't, well, I can't afford to pay a designer, but it also, I want to do the design and what it's doing is giving me ideas for my design. So in a sense, it's like giving me a paintbrush for me to do something. So it helps my visual creativity because I'm not, you know, I can draw but not that good at drawing. So that's where it's useful. Now, so there's a world where lots of people are finding a word, you know, a way of interacting with this to just kind of get images that amuse them or interest them or suggest ideas to them. So that's one way of doing it. Then if you let's stick with the because there is we could sidestep over to the text but let's keep with the images. So I can imagine as an illustrator you're not too worried about people having a go at just spinning the wheel and coming out of images. But if I had put in and I haven't. If I had put in "draw me a Victorian heroine, little girl, in the style of Pete Williamson" and it came out with something like your work, then you would be worried. Because that is somebody ripping off, I don't know, your website or something, which the bot has gone through and stolen. Yeah. That does, at the moment, I'm kind of assuming that's not going to happen. But if it does, it's kind of, because you get, as a creative person, you get to the point where you have your own voice after, you know, it's usually about quite a long time, isn't it? Like, just hacking away at the kind of the work and just trying to find your voice, just you kind of know what you want to be doing, but the voice often emerges almost by accident in a way, and then for someone just to kind of sweep in and kind of go, I kind of understand it as well. Like, it's kind of thing I would, I suppose when you're young, or, I suppose it's different if you want to be, if you want to be creative yourself, and maybe I'd say I want an image by one of these cartoonists I was really into, if I put that into one of these programmes and it created something. Yeah. I said, yeah, it's interesting. I guess the issue is if people are just kind of taking a facsimile of your style and perhaps using it to make money. I mean, I don't know if I'd be that bothered if someone did it just because they liked my work and they wanted to use it on a website or something like that. I wouldn't have much of an issue with that. It would almost be a compliment. But I guess it's when, you know, it gets translated into an advertising campaign at some point and you're not, you're not seeing any, any benefit from that. (EP) I suppose that's a good example because that's a bit like fan fiction for me. I've had various books where their fans have written continuations or stories in the world of and absolutely you take it as a compliment. I think it clearly, clearly seems wrong to me to do that for somebody whose work is in copyright. So, is it for illustrators the same as writers? In this country it's life plus 70. So if it's Van Gogh, for example, I think putting, you know, draw me a Ford motor car in the style of Van Gogh, something which he wouldn't have done. But you think, oh, wouldn't it be fun to see what it would be like to imagine he was doing? That seems just playful and fine because Van Gogh is not under copyright. Yeah, well, also, he's so well known that you know he's not an obscure artist. you're kind of like preempting any success that they might have. Ah, that's a good point too. And kind of taking their voice before they really get it out into the world. With Van Gogh, you're just, it's a cultural reference point, isn't it? You're kind of applying that to, like you say, a car or, yeah, a product. I guess it's that difference of, if someone would do that, because people know Van Gogh looks like, wouldn't they? So there would be that incongruity which would give the work a bit of oomph, I suppose. (EP) So I think we can say that, because I'm trying to sort of feel my way to what I think eventually the law should be or and what people who care about this should be doing, that when there is a clear intention to rip off the style of somebody who's, who has, either they're undiscovered or they've got some kind of copyright. That seems to me clearly unfair. It's unfair to let a bot sort's like a parasite then, isn't it? It's living off the work of other people. When it's something, images that are not protected by copyright and and adjusting a melange. I think it's fine to sort of say, you know, draw me a modern girl in the style of Tenniel's Alice, you know, why not? It doesn't matter. Tenniel doesn't care. He won't mind. But there is an issue here where it's less clear how the image has been generated. So before this, we were reading some articles up in this area. back in January, one of the AI image creators was being challenged by Getty Images for its use of photographers and illustrators work. Because obviously Getty Images is like a library of work and you pay to use an image. So the fear is that people whose income is by having their photographs or the illustrations used and getting a royalty for that or payment for that are missing out because they're being ripped off by the - as in like ripped in the old sense of, you know, when we used to rip CDs back in the day. You know that idea of pirate copying. So they're pirating the images but then they're putting it in one big digital cauldron and swirling them around and using it to paint new pictures. So it's very hard for Getty Images to say, "Well, that pixel in that thing is actually taken from this image because it just isn't traceable." So what does the world do about this? I'm not expecting you to have the answer, but what does your gut tell you about the fairness of that and the unfairness? Because those who are defending AI are saying, "Well, it's just the same as you creatives, when you are learning something, you go and look at this picture and you look at that picture and a digital brain, the artificial intelligence brain, is doing the same thing. It's learning from these images and using that to present a new vision of its own. I find it really, yeah, it's really, it's really tricky, isn't it? I mean, you saying about ripping CDs reminded me years ago, 20 years ago or something. I kind of knew musicians and they weren't, they were musicians who were just, you know, they weren't very well paid at all. And they they would kind of just swap pirated CDs, you know, and it, and it was that they, they knew, you know, it was obviously illegal on a certain level, but if they, they didn't do it, they wouldn't be like hearing what they wanted to hear. And they would, they wanted that information to put into their creative stew. And I wonder, even though that's, the musicians were losing money from the CD sales, I suppose, it's quite, it's almost, it was going on to create something else. But then with the AI, there aren't individuals. The whole point is, it's not an individual human being, is it? Just taking this melange of imagery and creating something new. It's, although there's obviously money being made somewhere. Yeah, so to... Do you go to those people and do you, do you, do they have to pay into some kind of, I'm not sure, I know what you mean, like you couldn't pinpoint the pixel that you'd taken from Getty that was in an image that maybe the Guardian or the Times had used, you know, they'd used an AI image source that used it for an article. So it's entering, it's being put into the marketplace, money is being changed hands. Yeah, and you do actually see more and more. If you look at newspapers, I've noticed, they're not necessarily saying, but there are more images that I know are easy to create on these image generators. So for example, if you want to do a political image, say you wanted to do a commentary on the recent visit of President Xi to Putin, I think this is the image I've got in my head. I saw an image of that in that sort of Stalin period, you know, that art they had then with the worker with the red flag flying by. It's probably some term that modern style they had in the 20s and 30s. So the image was of the two meeting in that style, which you could do very easily by running it through an image generator because would just reference the style, the people and off you go. So, it's, would they have employed an illustrator to do that? Or is it just a quick, I don't know, maybe not. But it's a quick way of summing up the way they're presenting the art, you know, it chimes with what the article was saying about the friendship that was going on there. The realpolitik behind it. So, the The creativity there resides in the person or the team of people who are programming these. So let's, you know, these programmers are creative. There are creative on that side of it. I don't think yet we've reached a point where the AI itself is sentient. So it's, even though it's extremely clever and a bit black boxy and that you don't know what's going on, I don't think we're yet giving it copyright of itself. I mean there's a whole lot of cases about this happening in law. But you've also got the person who's saying, "Well, in order to illustrate what I'm writing here as a journalist, I need this kind of image." And so he or she is putting that. They found a way of describing their idea into one of these image generators to get the illustration for their piece of short-term journalism. Yeah, that's, you know, I can see why I can see why someone goes that way. Because we are now an increasingly visual culture. And so... That's the thing is that that's a big part of it, that there needs to be this constant flow of new imagery. And without budgets, the budgets aren't there for it. But there just needs to be, like newspaper cartoons that make you kind of go, yeah. And then you turn the page and forget about it. So you're not going to pay Chris Riddell, like a thousand pounds or whatever. I don't know what he gets, but I mean, he's a great political cartoonist, but he can't do something every day. You know, it's, they are going to just be, you know, like you say, they're just going to be going and putting this, like an art director, I guess, is putting what they want into these programmes and kind of, there's a bit of kind of aesthetic judgement going on when they choose which one they're going for. But it's very minor. I mean, I think we should, so I'm saying about the creativity of the person thinking, it's only a very low level creativity. It's nothing of the engagement of, of something that you do. It's a very different, it's more like, I don't know, paint by numbers or something. It's something where the actual picture is being formed by something else and you're just putting in some rules. Yeah, but there's always, there's always, there's always, this is super chaste, but there's always culture by numbers, isn't there? There's always, there's always films, you know, B movies that were just, it has to do this, this, this. You make the film and you put it out. And, you know, I think with books as well, we were mentioning the romance genre, that there are areas of culture which are like, which kind of thrive on being formulaic. Yeah. And there are there's areas where people are far more, you know, it's far more kind of an artistic vision, but there's so much of culture, by numbers, like, you know, pop music, novels, you know, that kind of thing that it may, I'm not sure it feels like it isn't going to go away. But if you know, that's the other. Yeah, that's the other point, isn't it? We don't want to be the frame breakers, you know, the Luddite. So if you're looking at this or the 1810s, there was a whole problem of the mechanization of the weaving industry. So the cottage industry of home weaving was going moving into big factories. And there were people going around smashing up looms saying, this is taking away the livelihoods, changing the pattern of our work, which it was. Yeah. Wasn't it terrible that they had invented the power loom? What was wrong with somebody sitting at home with a treadle doing it at home? And you know, 200 years on, where are we now? Well, you still have people who do craft weaving, high spec weaving. And in a sense, it's much more valued and venerated. But we're probably all wearing clothes made in huge factories somewhere. I don't even know where. The Luddites didn't win. So are we... No, there are still there are people doing haute couture on there. There's several still. That very rarefied area. But if we're going to sort of surf this wave of perhaps we could do the the texting in a sort of second part of this. So Let's finish with the imagery. So this avalanche is here. We're all riding this wave. The kind of line that I've been thinking, let me test it out with you. So I've been trying to think what is fair. So when I work with an illustrator, I absolutely know that it's a conversation, a creative conversation between myself and the illustrator. They bring something else to the process. They bring their vision. they bring brilliance of their unity of how they draw. So each of their pictures looks like the same, you know, it looks like the last one, but is new. You know, it's part of a series. If I was doing that with AI art, there's all sorts of problems about AI art 'cause it doesn't understand the picture it's drawing. An AI doesn't know what it's drawing. So you can often tell AI art from hands. It has no idea how to approach hands. So see how my hands are like this. A lot of hands in photographs look like this. So an AI looks at that and thinks it's one hand. - Yeah. - And then you'll get strange conformations of hands and table legs. It just can't, it doesn't understand what it's drawing because it's not a thing to understand. So there is a real problem about AI actually being superficially attractive, but when you look at the details, so much is wrong. So it's a weaker tool from that point of view. So would it be fair to say that we should value the expertise of the designers and the illustrators for bespoke, proper, long-lasting work. Ephemera, which is to illustrate an article about something political or today's posting on Facebook, is less of an issue. I don't, yeah, I feel in a way it's not, it's difficult because I think people will always respond to the human feel in art and culture and just in life, you know, you was talking to a partner, you know, you get on the phone and you were talking to a machine, you just want to say hello to a human person and have a chat and fix something very quickly, but you're you're talking, you're going through, you're putting, being put into a box, and then the box is getting ticked. And I think this human feel thing is really important when you when you're illustrating, when I illustrate a character, it's never the same page by page. I kind of, I slightly, I'm slightly getting it wrong, or I'm emphasising one feature over another, or from what the character is supposed to be doing, I'm, I kind of almost subconsciously emphasizing maybe a head tilt or a hand or posture. So there's all this, all this, this subconscious human expression that's happening, which it just doesn't seem this AI stuff is ever going to be able to, it's going to look really slick and perfect all the time. It's not, we're not slick and perfect creatures. And we, we know that. And I think we respond to kind of a certain lack of polish in our art. But the AI stuff just looks like a lot of that really slick work you used to get in the 70s. And the posters on the wall stuff. I remember there was quite a few fantasy posters. really explaining. Yeah. So I think, I think AI will be something that it will be coming, it will be interesting because human beings, creative human beings will react to it, and kind of work with it and push it in certain ways and comment on it. I think it will take in the creative world, I wonder if it will just be there as this kind of great kind of blob that just takes up space. The AI art will illustrate AI articles. And it would just be a way of putting adverts in front of people in a magazine or on a, you know, on a website. I don't, I don't, I'm not sure what do you think? I mean, it's, well, it's not interested me at all. It's been in my peripheral vision is kind of really slick, kind of odd stuff. But it's just, I just think, well, here we go again, it's kind of tech people thinking they, you know, it's like when they said, no one's ever gonna, everyone's gonna get rid of their books, no one's gonna want to look at them. Yeah, that's a good comparison. Books got more and more beautiful. They just look incredible now. So people buy books because it's a beautiful artefact in your house. I think one thing I've been doing just to sort of, I'm really trying to understand it. And so I was doing a little series of putting into, because one of the areas that comes into my work is there's a plea for people who do cover illustrations that they don't get edged out because you don't want, you could imagine a world where there's a lot of front covers generated by AIR. Anyway. Yeah. So I thought, well, let's see what happens. So I started putting just the name of famous fantasy books into one of these image generators to see what would happen. And I began to notice a couple of things as I went through it. Some of the images were actually quite thought provoking and inspiring, but some of them showed a bias. So I put in, there's a Philip Pullman's book called The Firework Maker's Daughter. I put that in and all of the girls that came back were Western. Yeah. Right. Every single one. And in order to make it somebody from an Asian background or a black background, you had to put, you had to move away from the title and put in, you know, um, use a ethnic description. So there's a bias already in, in somewhere way back in this coding imagery, the data that's fed it. Then the other, again on Philip Pullman, I put in the amber spyglass, which is the last of his books. Because that's a really specific idea and concept, the image that was generated was pretty much the image that the designer of the front cover used. They should have been credited. It's the same, I don't know if you remember what the cover is. It was a version of that, or five to four versions of that. So clearly, the AI had a much smaller data set to go by and has come back with something much more derivative. So, it's not in terms of a paint box, imagine like a massive paint box. It is not a neutral thing, but we may be mistaken for thinking it is. It's got all sorts of weaknesses. So we have to be very knowing in the way we use it. But positively, so it's got lots of weaknesses, as well as hands. I'm really worried about hands. They're just terrible. And often actually, the other thing that's sometimes really weird are eyes, eyes and hands. So these look like, you really need to get these right for illustrations. But the other thing on the positive side is that sometimes it produces an image which actually makes my imagination spark. There will be something in it which I could use in my own medium, which is words. I can think, "Oh, that's a really interesting way of thinking about, I don't know, a world in the sky." It can give you prompts. A bit like a dream might give you a prompt or looking through any source of inspiration. So I could see it being used as a prompt for creativity. And I think it always, we need to have a way of admitting that we're using it as well to show that, because you can imagine there'll be artists now who will be able to pass off their work, say, Oh, I drew this. When actually what they mean is I, I inputted a command into, um, one of these online AI generators and, you know, I can see there's going to be a bit of fakery going on. Yeah. I, earlier I was wondering if it would be a bit like Muzak. Remember there was, there were corporations that would create Muzak and it would just be filtered into workspaces and it would be filtered into commercial spaces, just as a, just as a, just to fill the space where they thought music should be, but they did not use real music. And then musicians and artists responded to the concept of Muzak and took it into their own work. And it because it was something in the, in the cultural environment, like, like AI is, I'm just looking at it in terms of how will it be used? How will creative people use this thing that isn't, there's a strange new form of creativity? How will human beings kind of take it into and use, use it in their own voice? I mean, obviously it's very early days, but I almost feel like people will get tired of it. You know, it's... So I think looking, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I would have thought one of the things that you might want to do, you and other image creators, the hard way, might want to do is to be able to remove your images from these datasets that are used to train the AI artists. So that if I put in a command, draw in the style of Pete Williamson, they can't, or they'll find Pete Williamson in Denver, who's allowed his stuff to go on, but not you. So that you can actually protect your creativity. So Getty Images, they should be able to remove all the images that have gone online. should be some way of coding behind that to prevent it being used. I don't know if that's technically possible, but that would seem to be fair because there are loads of imagery which are not protected by any copyright, which is absolutely fair game. People want it out there to be used and reinterpreted. But the things which people are earning their living on should be able to be kept out. So if there's a Van Gogh alive today, his style or her style doesn't get ripped before they've got anywhere. Yeah. That would seem, you know, should we, should we have a little pause there? I'll put a pin in illustration and we'll move across now to look at the issue that on my side of this, which is the actual text, the chatbot GPT, basically how that whole side of things has suddenly exploded in the last few months. Yeah, definitely. Thanks for listening to Myth Makers Podcast, brought to you by the Oxford Centre for Fantasy. Visit to join in the fun. Find out about our online courses, in-person stays in Oxford, plus visit our shop for great gifts. 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