Although artificial intelligence has been around for years, it is at the forefront of conversation now more than ever. There are undeniable benefits that could have remarkable effects on our world—but there are potential risks, too.
One question about AI is its effect on the creative field—what does it mean for the individual artist? Will there still be value in the human touch? Will there be a point at which human creativity and AI are indistinguishable? How can artists protect their work from AI engines? These are important questions that we will undoubtedly be wrestling with as AI becomes more and more pervasive.
Viral AI Apps and Artist Data
Lensa is an AI app that went viral in late 2022. Fascinated people worldwide downloaded it to see their likeness in different visual styles—even paying to do so. Soon after the storm of fantastical selfies flooded the internet (if you use social media, perhaps you’ve seen them), questions of privacy, ownership, and other negative effects surfaced. For example, where do apps such as Lensa source their knowledge from? In part, they use AI art models such as Stable Diffusion, which samples artwork from the internet. This means they use data from artists who publish their work online (simply through a digital portfolio) but never agreed to have their work used. Some consider this to be theft.
To put the scale into perspective, let's look at just Lensa. According to SensorTower, the app has had 22.2 million downloads since its debut in 2018. In just November 2022, it was downloaded 1.6 million times—an amazing 631% increase from the month before, illustrating the power of "going viral" on apps like TikTok and Instagram. For $7.99, Lensa gives you a set of 50 images; imagine how many paintings, drawings, and more are informing these AI “art styles.”
Glaze: New App Protecting Artists
That's where Glaze comes in. It is a revolutionary tool that artists can use to protect their work. Essentially, Glaze alters an image at a very small level so that the artwork looks the same to the human eye but reads differently to a computer. These minute changes are referred to as a Style Cloak.
Stable Diffusion, mentioned above, essentially scans artists' online portfolios and creates images based on them. However, with Glaze, this software will misinterpret the style and therefore generate art that doesn't reflect the artist's original artwork accurately. This way, artists can prevent their artwork from being used without their consent.
You can read more about how Glaze works here.
The Origins of Glaze
Glaze was created by Ben Zhao, a professor of computer science at the University of Chicago, along with his students Emily Wenger and Shawn Shan. This academic team envisioned it as a prevention tool against the invasive dangers of machine learning.
Its creators acknowledge that it isn't perfect. AI is a rapidly evolving beast, and it is hard to predict what it will be like in five, ten, or fifteen years. However, Glaze is one step to battling art mimicry, especially while the law catches up; many lawsuits are already underway surrounding AI using artwork and other data without consent.
Its creators are not in it for profit but rather the good intentions. To this end, Glaze is and will remain free. The team plans to share Mac and Windows applications, allowing artists to use the tool on their artwork easily. It is the only software of its kind.
We don't know where AI will go, and the policy lag leaves weak spots for creators. To many artists, their artwork is a form of their identity in addition to their livelihood. Many creators felt blindsided by the Lensa app—especially considering how viral it went—but tools like Glaze can help mitigate the blow of AI to creative communities.