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Popular Photo App Lensa Spurs Debate Over Ethics of Artificial Intelligence in Art | Chicago News

You may have seen an explosion in people posting self-portraits on social media in the past week using the Lensa app. 

For a few dollars, users can submit photos of themselves that the app will use to generate multiple self-portraits in different art styles using artificial intelligence technology.

But the app has also reignited concerns about the ethics regarding the use of artificial intelligence in art.

A.I. algorithms work by going into large datasets of work posted online from various sources to help photo apps like Lensa generate self-portraits for users in different styles, said Jennifer deWinter, dean of Lewis College of Science and Letters at Illinois Tech. 

DeWinter said this presents a copyright issue, but because it’s a computer program generating the images, it makes it hard to trace back who is actually culpable. “It’s a problem of a giant, diffused system of multiple actors,” she said. 

Kennedy Freeman, a student in fine arts at Columbia College and founder of the Black fem art collective HourNine, said seeing these generated portraits spreading on social media made her concerned about how her art and those of other artists are being used without permission to help train A.I. generators.

“Different industries have been affected by the mass consumption of various things,” Freeman said. “People want things cheap and fast, so how that’s translating to the art world was just a bit scary for me to see.”

Jason Salavon is an associate professor in visual arts at the University of Chicago and is also a contemporary fine artist whose art deals heavily with A.I. 

Salavon has been incorporating large data sets and algorithms in his work since the 1990s.

He said the technology that we’re seeing from the Lensa app is just a small taste of what’s happening right now and what is still to come, which is both exciting and scary.

“I have a 7-year-old child and I think about her growing up in an environment where targeted ads are synthesized specifically for her … those kinds of things start to feel a little dystopian,” Salavon said. “At the same time, I’m really excited about what’s going to happen in film and television and video games and fine art.”

In response to the online discourse about the future of digital art, Prisma Labs, the company behind the Lensa app, tweeted: “AI produces unique images based on the principles derived from data, but it can’t ideate and imagine things on its own. As cinema didn’t kill theater and accounting software hasn’t eradicated the profession, AI won’t replace artists but can become a great assisting tool.”

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