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In the early days of the internet, it was thought that the anonymity of users would result in a sort of utopia where gender, race, ability, and other distinguishing factors of humanity would cease to matter, and the only thing that would matter is the value of the user's intellectual input into the growing database of human knowledge. Of course, those dreams were short-lived with the advent of photos, profiles, social media, avatars, and things of the like. In fact, the idea that the internet could be rid of human biases was likely a bias believed by the initial developers of the internet.

prompt: headshots of various humans with a diverse range of races, genders, ability, and age

Those with lived experience of oppression, people without access to computers and early internet technology, might never have thought that. Unfortunately, we have fewer records of accounts from these people. Although, seeing as the internet is a young technology, many of those people are still alive.

Today, with the advent of AI, it is easy to see how decades of bias on and off the internet have impacted how AI is being developed and how it responds to user input. To test the bias within AI, I asked mid journey to generate images of humans without including any racial or gender identifies in the prompts. Here are some results:

A person.

Shockingly, 3 out of 4 of the images are female. However, all are phenotypically white. There is a bit of age diversity, which is nice.

The most handsome man in the world.

I blame People magazine for this one! White people are a global minority, so by the numbers, it's statistically unlikely that one is the most handsome man in the world. But a few decades of content produced by E! News might have impacted the input data sent.

8K high resolution portrait of a man.

Again, all white men. There is a bit of a range in ages, which is nice to see. But there is no racial diversity.

8K, high resolution, detailed full upper body portrait photography, handsome macho man, frontal portrait, high cheekbones, chiseled jaw, playful smirk expression

Again, no racial diversity. I did a series of portraits using the same prompt but including racial and facial identifiers. you can see some of the resulting images in the slideshow below.

The most beautiful woman in the world

All white women. Very narrow, if not non-existent, range of ages. But only one blonde.

A human.

Now this was a shocker to me! All images are of Black people of different ages and genders. However, by now, I've generated probably hundreds of images of Black men and men of color, so perhaps the system is tailoring to what it thinks I will like? Again, I don't know the methodology behind the outputs. But I was pleased to see this result.

What does this all mean?

AI is technology that is not going away. In fact, in 2023, we're likely to see the technology be integrated into many aspects of our lives. AI art is a large topic of discussion right now, seeing as we previously did not think that AI could have the capacity to create art in the way that we've been seeing recently. However, AI is and will continue to be utilized in many industries such as transportation, healthcare, banking, entertainment, law, education, and much more.

prompt: a human cyborg

We know that these systems are subject to racial, gender, age, and other biases. And we must ensure that as AI takes more responsibility within these systems, we do not double down on these biases by integrating them into the technology.

Anyone who is of an oppressed or underrepresented group needs to be paying attention to these technologies as they continue to take hold of more aspects of our lives. It is in our best interest to be paying attention and to encourage members of these groups to join conversations and to contribute to the building and management of these technologies.

As AI continues to advance and become more integrated into our daily lives, it's important to remember that these systems are not immune to the biases of their creators and the data they are trained on. It's crucial that we pay attention to these biases and take steps to mitigate them, especially as AI is increasingly responsible for important decisions in industries such as healthcare, transportation, and finance.

It's up to all of us to work towards creating a more fair and equitable future, and that includes being proactive in addressing bias in AI. By actively including diverse perspectives in the development and management of these technologies, we can help ensure that they reflect and serve the needs of all members of society.

I for one am doing by best to understand how these technologies operate from the back end and to encourage my friends and family to be interested in how they will impact all of our lives. But for now, I’ll continue to generate images of gorgeous men!

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We're quickly entering a time where we can generate almost anything we can imagine with a few words and a click of a button. Right before the end of 2022, I decided to try out Mid Journey AI. I needed some cover imagery for my latest blog post and the images I was generating with DALL•E just weren't to my liking. The wonder I experienced from using the platform for just one time quickly turned into an entire weekend with my head in my laptop, thinking up prompts to feed the machine. And now that I've started using Mid Journey, there's no going back.

a dark-skinned black man in a yellow hoodie types on his laptop in his living room. AI illustration
art via Mid Journey. notice deformation in hand and laptop placement

Similar to DALL•E, Mid Journey is an AI art generating tool that turns text prompts into stunning visuals. But unlike DALL•E, it runs on the front end of a public discourse server. By purchasing a monthly plan, you can privately "communicate" with the Mid Journey bot and manage your art generation in a calmer environment. It didn't take long for me to do just that.

Unlike DALL•E, which is known for creating photo-realistic images, including those of human faces, Mid Journey is more adept and wildly successful at creating artistic, stylized works. However, this has not been without controversy, as it has been revealed that a large portion of the data sets fed into the Mid Journey learning model were taken from artists who were not only not compensated for their work, but also unaware that their work was being used.

Although I believe artists should be fairly compensated, the reality is that these technologies are here to stay and are only getting exponentially better as more and more people - now numbering in the millions - use and train these data sets to understand what humans find aesthetically pleasing.

With Mid Journey, I've found that the only limit is your imagination, but there is a fine line between being too detailed and not detailed enough when crafting your input prompts. Anything you don't specify will be randomized by the machine, and things are often left out if not expressly mentioned. Furthermore, text that appears in images is often rendered misspelled or deformed as shown in the set of vintage African City Travel posters in the slideshow above.

If that weren't enough, misspellings, syntax, and grammar mistakes in the input prompt can yield some pretty unwanted, and sometimes terrifying, results. Still, I feel that my satisfaction rate with Mid Journey's results is leagues better than what I was getting with DALL•E, and the results are far more aesthetically pleasing.

Is art dead?

Many artists are rightfully fearful that the new age of AI art is taking over the role of traditional artists, rendering their hours of work useless and their earning capacity virtually zero. However, I see a more nuanced story.

In our capitalist society, artists need to make money to survive. We sell our art in exchange for the ability to pay rent, buy food, and occasionally enjoy the pleasures of life. But at its core, the purpose of art is not for income generation, but for self expression. With the advent of AI art and its ability to generate hundreds, if not thousands or even millions, of commercially viable images in mere moments, we need to take a hard look at our values, ethics, and ever-changing reality.

To start, I'm a fan of universal basic income. In addition to potentially taking the role of artists, AI will certainly take on many of the more monotonous, mechanical roles in society. It's even likely that AI will render most programming jobs useless in a very short time. With millions of people unable to work in a traditional sense for money, we need to think about how we, as humans, can make sure everyone is taken care of.

In the interim, I see the possibility for a short-term solution where artists can opt into AI systems and receive compensation when generated art references their styles. I'm not well-versed in blockchain and non-fungible tokens, but I'm sure there is a tech solution to this in theory.

But at the end of the day, aside from art generation and design, there are myriad ways that AI is already impacting the art world, from curation and criticism to gallery management and marketing. It's natural to be concerned about the impact of AI on the art industry, but it's also important to embrace the new possibilities it brings and find ways to adapt and thrive in this changing landscape.

Ultimately, I believe that AI art can coexist alongside traditional art and that both can thrive. While AI may make certain aspects of art creation and dissemination easier, it will never be able to replicate the unique perspective and emotion that comes from a human artist. Art, at its core, is a reflection of the human experience, and as long as we have that, we will always have art.

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One of the things I love about the future is that it gives us the opportunity to create the lives we want. This year, I am making a conscious effort to be intentional about the choices I make and the actions I take, with the goal of creating the life that I desire.

Part of this process involves being honest about what it is that I really want, which can be a challenge for anyone, but particularly for me as a queer Black man. We spend much of our young lives denying the things that we want, so, in adulthood, it's not always easy to be true to ourselves, especially when society can make it difficult for us to be our authentic selves.

To help me in this journey of self-discovery and growth, I have been using AI tools such as chatGPT. These tools have been incredibly helpful in helping me to communicate my ideas and desires effectively, and to connect with others who share similar goals and values.

This week—in collaboration with chatGPT—I constructed a number of pitch emails that I will be sending to agencies, brands, and creatives in pursuit of representation, partnership, and collaboration. And—though it took a bit of finessing—the process was fairly straightforward!

I started by creating a basic outline of what I wanted to say, including information about who I am, what I have to offer, and what I am looking for from the party in question. Then, I fed this information into the system, and it generated the pitch emails that I will be sending to potential partners.

I took the results and tweaked them so as to convey the messages and sentiment that I want and voila!—I was left with a number of perfect pitch emails that I can use to show my best qualities and nail the partnerships that I desire.

Of course, before sending them off I will make sure they're tailored to the specific person or persons they are meant for.

At this point in my life, I’ve over monotony and stagnation. I’m clear about what I want, confident that I deserve it, and eager and excited to chase after it. I’m excited about the future and the potential it holds for all of us. I am confident that if we are honest about what we want and are willing to put in the effort to chase after it, we can create the lives we desire.

I’m looking forward to looking back this time next year and seeing how far I've come, and I wish everyone a happy, healthy, and productive 2023.

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