Yokai AI images

A collection of yokai sculptures imagined by me and Midjourney. Click on the images to see the full image. And click “Read More” below to see a few more yokai sculptures.

Yokai are supernatural entities and spirits from Japanese folklore and come in a great variety of forms, from silly to helpful to scary.

For more of my AI imaginations, see my AI Instagram account.

A FEW NOTES ON AI IMAGES

I see these AI images as not so interesting in themselves, but more as: “Wouldn’t it be cool if these were real sculptures?”

Also, I see them as a joint creation of not only me and Midjourney, but all of humanity (the AI is trained on images created by innumerable people around the world) and really all of existence. Without all of existence and the evolution of the Universe, they would not exist. That’s the same with any human creation and made even more obvious with AI-generated images, text, and music.

AI images or AI in general will never replace good artists. They are statistical programs predicting what’s likely to go together (in the case of images) and what comes next (in the case of text). The AI is not in any way intelligent. They are trained on a large number of images and texts so produce something that’s average good, not exceptional. They are tools.

And yes, AI will lead to the loss of some jobs (less skilled image-creators and writers) and it will create a lot of new jobs (people who know how to use AI effectively and well).

As usual, the consequences of this particular tool and revolution will likely not be as bad as some fear, and it not be as good as some hope.

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A few more reflections on AI art

I have explored AI art for about ten days, mainly using Midjourney. (AI art is, in short, software that creates images from text based on having analyzed perhaps millions of images.)

I am not all that familiar with the discussion around this, although I have picked up a few things here and there.

Here are some additional thoughts from my side.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS

There is obviously a discussion about intellectual property related to AI-generated images.

Personally, and so far, I am just exploring it for fun and I share a few images on social media. It’s perhaps a bit similar to creating collages using other people’s works, which is what people did before AI art.

If someone makes AI art in the style of a specific artist and sells it for money, that’s more questionable.

But what if the style is a more generic one or one that cannot be pinned on any one particular artist? Is that too a problem? Some will say yes since the AI is trained on the art of many artists who unwillingly contribute to the AI result.

It also seems clear that to many, AI art is an exciting new frontier. It brings professional-grade image-making within reach to more people. And AI art may inspire human artists, just like human art informs AI art. It’s likely not possible to put the genie back into the bottle, and would we want to if we could?

For me, what it comes down to is: (a) It’s good to have these conversations. (b) This is a kind of wild west where the law has not yet caught up with the technology.

CULTURAL BIAS

AI art is informed by images in our western and global culture, and obviously reflects biases from the material it’s trained on.

For instance… Jesus and his human parents are depicted as white Europeans, not Middle Eastern. A secretary is assumed to be female. Unless something else is specified, people come out young, white, fit, and beautiful according to western conventional standards. The default man comes out very muscular. And so on.

Some are concerned that this will reinforce existing stereotypes, and that will probably happen in some cases.

The upside is that the inherent – and quite obvious – AI bias leads to conversations among people and in the public. It makes more people more aware of these biases – the standards, norms, and expectations – in our culture.

EXOTICISM

When I was little, I loved stories about the exotic – other parts of the world, other people and cultures than my own, other landscapes than I was familiar with, science fiction, and so on.

I wonder if this is a natural fascination. We may be drawn to what we don’t know, partly because it helped our ancestors be familiar with more of the world and this aided their survival. The unfamiliar and exotic are also good projection objects, which tend to create fascination.

When I make AI art, I often find I follow my childhood draw to the exotic and unknown: Shamans, different ethnicities, fairy tales and mythology, UFOs, and so on.

Is this problematic? If we exoticize certain ethnic groups and people and think that’s how they are, then yes, to some extent. It’s out of alignment with reality and whether we idolize or vilify, it does these groups and people a disservice.

Is it inherently problematic? Perhaps not always, at least not in the sense that it harms certain groups.

For instance, I have a series of images of neo-druid shamans in the future and make sure to include a wide range of ethnicities and ages. This is a form of exoticism, and I aim at making the exoticism universal and include all types of people.

Internet

As usual when there is a new form of information technology, some see it as unfortunate, as something that will damage the young people.

It’s very predictable, and it has happened throughout history….. when we went from a oral tradition to writing, when radio and cinema arrived, when we got TV, when we went from black-and-white TV to color (here in Norway, there was even a heated discussion in parlament concerning how color TV would damage people), and now it’s the same with the internet.

It’s good to take a sober look at this.

First, we see that some – perhaps those with a fear of the new – will have these opinions. It’s very predictable. It has happened thorughout history.

We also know that, in most cases, it won’t be as bad as some say, and it won’t be as good as some others say.

Also, it’s a tool. It all depends on how it’s used. A hammer can be very useful, and it can also be harmful. It just depends on how we use it.

We are adaptable. Our use of it changes, and the technology itself evolves. We see what works and doesn’t work, and we make adjustments.

And there is always a heightened facination with the new technology at first. I see that for myself. The use of and fascination with it reaches a saturation point, and the use becomes more moderate and appropriate to long term use.

Note: Yes, I know about “digital dementia” and that discussion. And I still find it helpful to see the bigger picture, and keep a sober view. There is an advantage and a drawback to any information technology. For instance, books allows us to be absorbed into a different world, and use our imagination to (re)create this world in our minds. At the same time, they are ridiculously linear, and makes us a slave of what the author wants us to imagine and feel. Books, movies and radio are forms of information technology where the recipient is expected to be quite passive in this sense. They are quite linear and authoritarian forms of information technology, and the information typically only goes one way – from the author to the recipient.

Even if it has its own drawbacks, the internet allows the user to be more active and intentional, and often create, share and participate more actively. That is a dramatic advantage of the internet over previous technologies. It levels the playing field for those with access to the internet, and dramatically lowers the threshold for contributing. Few could and can publish books, and even fewer can have their own traditional radio program. But anyone with access to the internet can have their own website, or blog, or podcast, or YouTube channel. Of course, many in the world do not have this access.

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Fascination with internet

The current fascination with the internet is very understandable, from a couple of different perspectives.

From an evolutionary perspective, a curiosity and fascination with what’s new and information is valuable for survival. It helps us familiarize ourselves with what’s new, and we gain information about the world. (The newness factor is rapidly falling away, but the info factor is still there and will continue to be there.)

From a larger perspective, it’s life (Earth, the Universe) familiarizing itself with itself, through us… it’s local eyes, ears, feelings and intellect. We are the universe experiencing and exploring itself, and bringing itself into awareness. (As it does through any sentient beings, part of this living planet and – most likely – other places in the universe.)

It’s common for the older generations to frown upon the “fads” of the younger generations, and that has happened with the internet too. But those days are already almost over, as those who grew up with the internet now are having their own children, and the internet has become an ordinary part of daily life for even the older ones. What’s new becomes ordinary, and we find a more balanced relationship with it. And it is quite amazing, this tool that connects people around the world (at least those more affluent…..) and allows us access to a great deal of information created by people around the world and throughout history.

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Mars

There are two Mars related stories in the news these days: The quite exciting landing of Curiosity on Mars a few days ago, and Elon Musk’s plan to bring people to Mars within 10-15 years.

I have been interested in astronomy and space exploration since I was a little boy, and this interest was fueled even more when I saw Cosmos by Carl Sagan at age ten or eleven. It brought me directly into a profound sense of awe of the universe and life itself, of us all – quite literally – made of star dust, the product of 13.4 billions years of evolution, and that these eyes, these ears, these thoughts, these feelings are the eyes, ears, thoughts and feelings of the universe. In the words of Carl Sagan:

And we, we who embody the local eyes and ears and thoughts and feelings of the cosmos, we have begun at least to wonder about our origins — star stuff contemplating the stars, organized collections of ten billion billion billion atoms, contemplating the evolution of nature, tracing that long path by which it arrived at consciousness here on the planet earth, and perhaps throughout the cosmos.

In my teens, I became interested in systems views and the Gaia theory, and it was quite clear that the Earth as a whole can be seen as a seamless living organism, where we as humans have specific roles and functions, as any other species and ecosystem does. What is our role? We are, clearly, an awareness organ for the Earth and the universe. We are a way for the Earth and the universe to bring itself into awareness. We are a way for the Earth and the universe to experience itself. Through us, the Earth and the universe develops technologies which allows for it to explore itself even further, in even smaller details (microscopes), even further out in space (telescopes, space travel). Through us, Earth is able to see itself from the outside, as one seamless whole, and that feeds back into and even transforms our human society and culture.

Perhaps most importantly in the long run – we may be a way for the Earth to reproduce. The Earth has already taken the first steps in this direction, through our space travel and ideas of Mars colonization and terraforming. It’s an universal impulse for life to wish to (a) survive and (b) reproduce, so why wouldn’t this also be the case for Earth as a whole? There are several mechanisms which may make this happen. It’s a natural consequence of our combination of (a) curiosity and passion for exploration, and (b) our current and future levels of technology. It makes sense. Having two – or more – planets with human colonies and Earth life (plants, animals, ecosystems) makes humanity and Earth life far more resilient. A large space object may crash into the Earth, wiping out civilization and large portions of life, or we may do it ourselves. So if we have a “backup” civilization and Earth life somewhere else, life can continue there and perhaps even support or re-seed life on Earth. In a longer perspective, we know that the sun will eventually engulf the Earth.

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Firefox 3 released

Firefox 3 is released! I have used it for a few weeks already, and am very happy with it. (Update: a day-and-a-half later, it has been downloaded over ten million times!)

Among these recommended extensions, I find a few especially useful: Ablock Plus, All-in-One Sidebar, Customize Google. DownloadHelper, Foreastfox, IE Tab, PDF Download, PicLens, Menu Editor, QuickNote.

Another benefit of Firefox is that this site actually looks good on it! (I noticed recently that the single page view is a little off with Internet Explorer – all lower case letters, the comment field is not in the right position, etc. I’ll look into it at some point.)

Open Source and Creative Commons

creative_commons_copyleft.gif

I have used open source applications for some years now, and prefer them not only because they are free and often of very good quality, but also for how they are created and the philosophy behind them. My most recent switch is from InDesign to Scribus for layout type work.

Other applications I find especially helpful: Firefox browser, VLC Media Player, Inkscape (vector design) and sometimes Gimp (image editing), WordPress (including for this blog) and other content management systems, FileZilla for ftp (file transfer), and also Celestia (3D space simulation). I have also started to explore Blender which is 3D animation software.

I used Open Office for a while, but have now switched to Star Office which is part of the Google Pack. (See below.)

And some that are free and good quality, although not necessarily Open Source: Google (gmail, calendar, reader, documents, photos), Google Pack (Picasa, Google Earth, Star Office, SketchUp), Skype (online calling) and Stellarium (planetarium).

And then there is of course Creative Commons for music, art, text, video and more, including fonts. Here is a list of forty high quality fonts, many using a Creative Commons license.

See also these lists of Open Source applications from Open Source Living and WikiPedia, and a selection of Open Source applications for Windows and Mac.