The ethical dilemma of using A.I. to create art

Someone recently won an art contest by submitting an artwork entirely generated by an A.I. Is this cheating or just using a tool?

The ethical dilemma of using A.I. to create art
Jason Allen's AI-generated art won a prize at the Colorado State Fair (Image credit: Jason Allen via Midjourney)

Someone recently won an art contest by submitting an artwork entirely generated by an A.I. art generator. Is this cheating?

Within the artist community the answer is clearly yes. But the person who submitted the artwork claims he was just using modern tools to create art. No different to how it's always been.

A.I. has been challenging these ideas for a few years now. OpenAI with its GPT-3 model has been challenging creative writing and copywriting. Within music, A.I. plugins have existed for years that help musicians in various ways from writing chord progressions to creating vocals. "Virtual human" influencers have been making waves on social media for a while already.

Is any of this "cheating"?

I guess it depends on the rules of the game. Is it cheating when pop stars use autotune to sing songs written by other people? Is it cheating when celebrities get ghostwriters to write their autobiographies?

Generally, I think the world has settled on the idea that no, these are not usually considered cheating but rather collaborative works involving a group of creative humans, all of whom get paid a share in the outcome. We see the relative merits of different creative outputs and treat them accordingly.

A.I., however, is not a human and does not get paid its share - beyond the compute fees of whatever platform is hosting it, of course. It certainly doesn't qualify for royalties. But it is creating new things, despite the arguments about all A.I. being derivative. I mean, everything is derivative if you look deep enough.

It also depends on context. In an art contest the thing being judged is the skill of the artist. If you've just got an A.I. to do a painting for you and submitted it, then it's not your skill behind the submission, and that is clearly cheating. You'd be just as guilty if you paid a human artist to create the artwork and submitted that.

In the wider world however, things are hazier. Our morals haven't caught up yet to the complex ethical position of using advanced A.I. to perform tasks for us, because we don't currently consider A.I. to be a lifeform (partly because we don't even know how to define consciousness ourselves). As such, A.I. is still considered a tool, which is the crux of the artist's argument in this particular controversy.

No doubt that will change eventually, and quite possibly the issue of A.I. being used for ghostwriting, ghostpainting or ghost-anything will settle in much the same way as the human variants of such concepts. A.I. will find its place as another form of resource alongside human resource.

In which case it's only a matter of time until sites like are populated almost entirely of A.I. creators. At that point, the argument over whether A.I. is a tool or a creator will become pretty moot.

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