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Inspired by NASA’s recently released images of space, the first challenge I put into Midjourney Research Lab’s artificial intelligence (AI) tool was “a spaceship surrounded by galaxies.” The result, as shown below, was an image of a vessel suspended in space that seemed to mirror the universe around it – pretty much true to the brief.
For Midjourney founder David Holz, a powerful aspect of generative AI is its “ability to become one with language,” where we can “use language as a tool to create things.” Simply put, generative AI uses commands from the user to create new images based on a dataset it has learned over time from various sources.
The rise of the text-to-image generation has also raised philosophical questions about the definition of “artist”.
In his 2019 book The Creativity Code (Art and Innovation in the Age of AI), British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy states: “Art is ultimately an expression of human free will, and until computers have their own version, computer-generated art will always traceable back to the human desire to create.” He states that if we were to create a “mind” in a machine, it might offer us a glimpse into its thoughts. “But we are still far from creating a conscious code,” concludes du Sautoy.
Similarly, Holz notes, “It’s important that we don’t think of it as an AI ‘artist’. We think of it more as using artificial intelligence to expand our imagination. It’s not necessarily about art, it’s about imagination. We ask: ‘what if’. Artificial intelligence kind of increases the power of our imagination.”
Midjourney allows its users to post their challenges on their Discord server and then generate four text-like images. The user can choose to explore multiple variants and resample for a perfect match to a higher quality image. The bot went into open beta last month, giving users a number of free trials to let their imaginations run wild. Generated images can also be minted into NFTs, for which Midjourney used to charge royalties until recently.
“It’s a giant community of nearly a million people all painting together, dreaming and riffing off each other. All the challenges are public and everyone can view each other’s pictures… that’s quite unique,” Holz tells indianexpress.com.
In 2010, Holz co-founded Leap Motion, a hand-held motion-capturing user interface company, and was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2014. He now runs a small, self-funded research and design lab, Midjourney, which with 10 other colleagues explores many diverse projects, including the AI visualization tool.
Regarding the reaction the AI robot has received, Holz says: “Many people are very happy and find using the product a deeply emotional experience. People use it for everything from projects to art therapy. There are people who have always had things on their mind but have not been able to express it before. Some people have conditions like aphantasia, where the mind cannot imagine things, and now for the first time in their lives they are using a robot to visualize. A lot of beautiful things are happening.”
The bot also takes care to prevent misuse of the platform to generate offensive images. Community guidelines urge users to refrain from using challenges that are “disrespectful, aggressive or otherwise offensive in nature” and also generate “adult content or gore”. Midjourney also uses moderators to watch out for policy violators and warn or ban them. It also has automatic content moderation where certain words are banned on the server. AI also learns from user data, Holz explains. “If people don’t like something, they create less of it.”
I came across the Midjourney bot during a cursory glance at my Twitter where I saw users of a psychedelic rendition of a somewhat post-apocalyptic Delhi
An interesting aspect of exploring Midjourney was that we had previously covered AI bots like Disco Diffusion and Craiyon and how different AIs would react to the same texts. The images below show results generated with the same challenge, “city during monsoon rains,” by Midjourney, Disco Diffusion, a free AI tool hosted by Google Colab, and Craiyon, formerly known as DALL-E mini.
While Craiyon throws up relatively realistic images, Disco Diffusion shows surreal, impressionistic results, and Midjourney sits sort of in the middle of the two.
According to Holz, Midjourney can be seen as a “playful, imaginative sandbox”. “The goal is to give everyone access to this sandbox so everyone understands what’s possible and where we are as a civilization. What can we do? What does this mean for the future?”
Holz dismisses concerns that AI is here to “replace” humans or their jobs. “When computer graphics was invented, there were similar questions – will it replace the artist? And he doesn’t. Computer graphics make artists more powerful,” he says.
Holz adds, “Whenever we see something new, we’re tempted to see if it’s dangerous and treat it like a tiger. AI is not a tiger. It’s actually more like a big river of water. A tiger is dangerous in a completely different way than water. Water is something for which you can build a boat, you can learn to swim, or you can create dams that generate electricity. They don’t try to eat us, they don’t get mad at us. It has no emotions, feelings or thoughts. It’s like a powerful force. It’s an opportunity.”