There has been an explosion of software that uses AI to generate artwork on the fly.

Now, working artists say these systems are unethical because they trained using artists work, and without their permission.

I met up with Greg Hopwood, a well-known Hollywood costume concept artist.

Greg Hopwood, Costume Concept Artist
Greg Hopwood, Costume Concept Artist

“Aggressive amounts of creativity,” go into his job, he told me. “You’re making a thousand decisions every second of every minute with every part of your creative fiber,” said Hopwood, who has worked on productions including Birds of Prey.

He creates the initial look and feel of characters and places in popular movies, TV shows and video games.

“We create artwork that visualizes things like the costumes, props, environments,” said Hopwood.

Now, he’s worried his work could be replaced by artificial intelligence.

To say I’ve been keeping an eye on it is an understatement,” explained Hopwood.

There are now many AI software tools that can generate artwork like his with just a few keywords.

The issue artists have a problem with is how these AI programs are trained.

“Finding out that all of our work has been scraped into these datasets of these AI programs has been terrifying,” said Hopwood.

“No one was asked permission for those images, and they certainly weren’t compensated for them either,” said Rachel Meinerding. She’s co-founder of Concept Art Association, an advocacy group created to defend working artists.

Greg Hopwood with Rachel Meinerding
Greg Hopwood with Rachel Meinerding

“[We] essentially [want to] have artists be a voice at the table when these kinds of conversations are being had… like how do we move forward with these technologies in ethical ways,” said Meinerding.

AI websites don’t necessarily disclose where their training images come from, but often it’s from whatever’s posted online.

“The default should be for people to opt-in, not to opt-out,” said Meinerding.

“We’re all for tech innovation but it can’t come at the cost of the working class artist, you know,” added Hopwood.

While the legality and ethics of this brave new AI-generated world are worked out, Hopwood has a simple suggestion to show your support: “find an Etsy shop, find an artist, commission some artwork,” he concluded.

AI is still a very dynamic and growing part of the tech industry. There’s no doubt guidelines, rules and regulations will have some catching up to do because of it.