Copycat tryna cop my manner. Watch your back when you can’t watch mine. Copycat tryna cop my glamor. Why so sad, bunny? Can’t have mine. — “Copycat,” Finneas Baird and Billie Eilish O’Connell
There’s been considerable flutter about artificial intelligence (A.I.) and its invasion of the creative communities, including the comics medium. Artists are concerned that their original work will be pirated, and writers are concerned that they will be replaced.
Microsoft Office is going to add A.I. text generation to its pull-down quivers perhaps as early as next month, much to the delight of English teachers all over the nation. To my fellow professional writers with even entry-level scruples: there’s no need to bother with those ink cartridge refills.
I totally understand these concerns. I completely agree with the dismay and concern shown by informed people and, in fact, being apprehensive about A.I. taking over the world in not necessarily a sign that you’ve watched too many episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, I yam what I yam and, therefore, I need to point out two categories of perspective.
Number one. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Ask anybody from Hiroshima or Nagasaki. You can’t un-invent stuff, and I’m not being paranoid when I ask the question “do you really think nobody on Earth has been playing around with cloning humans?” If you think that’s preposterous, then explain George Santos to me. This does not mean we should just give up; it means the solutions to this problem have to be ferreted out.
Number two. This is more complicated. It might sound like an apology or and excuse — history is like that sometimes. It is neither. Just a bunch of historical facts. We have had similar work-stealing devices ever since Ben Franklin caught a head-cold.
The photocopier was invented in 1938, and I suspect the second image generated by the machine was a shot of somebody’s ass. Be that as it may, the machine impressed proto-nerds and higher-contrast copies of buildings and other background folderol were deployed by some of those with artistic inclinations. Is this theft? Somebody else did the work. And if it is theft, what about guys like Stan Drake? My respect and admiration for this comics art master has no limit, yet routinely he used xerography for backgrounds. He also produced a beautiful comic strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones, for 36 years.
Technology marches on. The purpose of a lightbox is to allow artists to put a piece of drawing or tracing paper over an extant image and trace the work and then deploy the copied art in their “new” work.
The Artograph was this huge machine — it’s gotten smaller — that projects establishes artwork so that the technician can trace it with the added benefit of enlargement or reduction — and even distortion, if you, like most artists, are into fooling around a bit.
As for scanners, well, I haven’t clocked this but I think it is safe to say that virtually all artists who pay their utility bills own and use one… as do counterfeiters of currency, diplomas, passports and the like. I suspect George Santos has a scanner.
Granted, theft of work by A.I. is easier, more convenient, and takes a lot less artistic skill than most of the aforementioned devices. Isn’t that the purpose of technological advance?
And then… there is deepfake, something Dr. Sivana and Lex Luthor might have dreamed up while sharing a prison cell.
Deepfake scares the ever-lovin’ shit out of me. It will, I predict, be the dominant form of campaigning in 2024. Now unscrupulous people — well, they’ve got scruples in the way both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Doctor Doom have scruples — can fake videos of people so that they can say anything the faker wants them to say and then slam that onto “social” media where it will be passed around faster than Hunter Biden’s laptop dick pix. (Those clips of Kamala Harris screaming “slow death to white Christians” are not real, folks.)
So stop worrying about how some hack has ripped off your “Hoppy the Marvel Bunny” drawing. With deepfake, our world is truly fucked. I’ve longed for an American Flagg movie, but certainly not like this.
Now that Microsoft has incorporated cutting edge A.I. software into its Edge browser, its bloated, expensive but popular Microsoft Office, and its previously little-used and hardly-remembered Bing search engine, artists have a new camaraderie with the entire community of writers. Usage of their glandular version of OpenAI instantly skyrocketed among developers who can access it presently; the rest of us will have to wait a couple hours. Google has its own A.I. software doing the work of hundreds of soon-to-be unemployed humans. I understand it’s not as good as Microsoft’s A.I, but my definition of “good” might differ from that held by developers.
Well, that’s how irony works. Most A.I. writing these days requires very heavy editing, but if you compare it to the stuff we saw just a couple of years ago writers have every reason to be concerned… as do those who manufacture keyboards.
For better and for worse, A.I. is part of the fabric of our day-to-day reality. But let me ask you a question. Do you think this very piece, the one you are still reading, was written by a man… or by a machine?