How One Visual Artist Is Taking on AI Companies

How One Visual Artist Is Taking on AI Companies

In an era where technology is rapidly evolving, the lines between art and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly blurred. Visual artists like Kelly McKernan are finding themselves in a unique and somewhat disconcerting situation: their work is being repurposed by AI companies without their consent. This raises ethical, legal, and existential questions about the future of art and artists in the digital age.

Kelly McKernan, a Nashville-based artist known for her acrylic and watercolor paintings, recently discovered that her distinctive style was being generated by AI engines. “People were tagging me on Twitter, and I would respond, ‘Hey, this makes me uncomfortable. I didn’t give my consent for my name or work to be used this way,'” McKernan said in a recent interview. The artist even reached out to some of these companies, only to be met with silence.

“I even reached out to some of these companies to say ‘Hey, little artist here, I know you’re not thinking of me at all, but it would be really cool if you didn’t use my work like this.’ And, crickets, absolutely nothing.” – Kelly McKernan

Artist Kelly McKernan paints in their studio Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. McKernan is an artist and one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against artificial intelligence companies they allege have infringed on their copyright. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

McKernan is now one of three artists who are seeking to protect their creative rights. They are challenging the use of their artwork in AI systems used to “train” image-generators. The legal battle that ensues could set a precedent for how we define intellectual property and artistic integrity in the age of machine learning and AI.

The ethical implications are equally troubling. AI companies are essentially commodifying individual creativity for commercial gain, without the artist’s consent or compensation. This not only threatens the livelihood of artists but also raises questions about the ethical use of AI in creative fields.

As AI continues to advance, the tension between technology and art is likely to escalate. The outcome of McKernan’s legal battle could have far-reaching implications for both artists and tech companies. Will artists have to adapt to a new digital landscape where their work can be easily replicated and monetized by AI? Or will legal systems evolve to protect the intellectual and creative rights of artists?

The battle between visual artists and AI companies is more than just a legal dispute; it’s a fight for the soul of art in the digital age. As McKernan and others take a stand, they are not just defending their work; they are fighting for the future of artistic integrity in a world increasingly dominated by algorithms.

“The word ‘human’ has a special resonance for McKernan these days. Although it’s always been a challenge to eke out a living as a visual artist — and the pandemic made it worse — McKernan now sees an existential threat from a medium that’s decidedly not human: artificial intelligence.” – AP

In a world where technology is ever-evolving, the need to protect the essence of human creativity has never been more urgent. The outcome of this battle could very well shape the future of art and technology for years to come.

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