Deus ex Art Machina – AI Art and its Wide-scale Implications on Japanese Otaku Art

The three images were made using three AI art generation programs in October, 2022 using prompts such as “beautiful girl, akihabara, night, fox ears, fox tail, white hair, smartphone, black bodysuit, tight bodysuit, baggy jacket, cute face, cityscape, rain, reflective lights, streets.” I did not specify an art style and therefore the output can be considered the default of the three programs.


– AI art rapidly developed in 2022 and became a sensation in late summer and early fall in Japan.

– NovelAI stunned the Japanese anime/manga community. The fact that NovelAI and other programs can produce large volumes of illustrations quickly changes how people interact with it and accelerates its evolution.

– Artists in Japan have generally reacted negatively to AI art programs. Some people see potential benefits in terms of productivity, but the inclusion of their art into the datasets without their permission has been attacked.

– Legality and ethical issues are still in flux. As of 2022, AI art programs, datasets, and their output is most likely legal, however certain caveats must be noted. Few mainstream Japanese IP holders have embraced AI-generated art as fan art.

– AI art programs are very power tools that have possess unique qualities that are radically different from anything that existed before. Being very powerful, it can be abused with great effect in ways that we cannot anticipate adequately.

– AI-generated art and the technology behind it will radically change the economic landscape of certain fields in ways that similar to pollution and drastic technological innovation. The concepts of externalities and dumping in economics may prove useful to understand it.

– AI art’s greatest impact will revolve around how artists can allocate time. The competition from AI art programs in terms of speed against human artists is unparalleled and thereby create huge degrees of friction and difficulties for human artists.

– Art may be facing similar historic trends that befell upon other industries where technological innovation brought about huge productivity spike, followed by massive consolidation and consumer choice reduction.

– The unequal impact of AI art programs in terms of both economic and artistic direction. AI art programs may be the singularity that changes the relationship between the creators and the audience.

– Predicting the future based on current circumstances.

– The looming fight over who controls AI art programs and the platforms.

– Artists are not uniform and neither are audiences. The reaction and use of AI art will probably reflect those differences in attitudes.

Some background, or how we got into this mess

The impact of AI art has been weighing heavily in the minds of many creators and their audiences in Japan. Machine learning and their impact on society as been nothing short momentous within the last decade. At first, the people starting taking notice of how machine translation improved significantly to the point where many felt basic human speech could reasonably be interpreted and translated into different languages by computers. AI–Artificial Intelligence–became the buzz word associated with everything from optimal thermostat adjustment all the way up to identifying real life tax evasion. Even in the world of art, computer assistance has been a useful tool in reducing choppy line art and making animation look smoother since at least the year 2000.

But no one expected AI algorithms to become good enough to be able to replicate illustrative artwork.

It took decades before computers could challenge chess players. And yet, in a matter of short months in the summer of 2022, computer rendered art matured so quickly that it is hard for even trained artists to tell the difference between what is created by an AI and what is created by a human being for more and more artwork.

In July of 2022, Midjourney first captivated the Internet with its ability to create highly advanced illustrations without direct human involvement beyond being prompted to produce artwork based on textual descriptions. There had been other AI powered illustration generating systems available, but Midjourney’s emphasis on classical paintings made it stand out. The operator would type in various text descriptions and the AI would try to render an illustration that would match the text prompts. Stable Diffusion followed, and since this AI was open-source as opposed to Midjourney, people were free to produce as much illustration as they wished to create. The first results were rather rudimentary, but with enough prompting and delicate fine-tuning, it was possible to produce stunning computer generated artwork in minutes. Anything similar might take a human artist days or weeks to create.

One of the pivotal moments that galvanized the online art community and the public at large was when a Midjourney AI-generated art won a Colorado State Fair prize in September 2022. The submitter claimed his fine-tuning and detailed readjustments of the AI art should be respected as an artistic endeavor, while many other disagreed with the belief that the substance of the artistic achievement was only made possible through the complex algorithms employed by the computer and the multitude of pre-existing artwork that the AI used as a reference material.

When news that AI-generated art bested human art in Colorado, the fear that computers could replace human artists became a lot more real. But the threat primarily revolved around Western illustrative art, conceptual art design, and photorealistic illustrations. For the most part, the Japanese artistic community felt AI art would be a useful tool that could help with backgrounds and testing color calibration, but their character art was still decidedly within the domain of human creativity.

The Beast that is NovelAI

This assumption was destroyed in early October of 2022 when NovelAI smashed all previous expectations revolving around how AI could convincingly draw human characters in the style of Japanese anime and manga. NovelAI was innovative for its easy of use and the high quality of anime/manga character art, and it could create many illustrations within minutes. NovelAI is a customized version of Stable Diffusion, but was calibrated toward enabling the operator to prompt artwork that draws from the Japanese anime and manga art style as the program incorporated a huge library of illustrations stored on Danbooru, an art depository primarily comprised of illegally uploaded artwork by users around the world. Danbooru is a fairly old image archive and because users can tag various labels to the image (e.g. brunette hair, dark skin, large breasts, thick eyebrows, pointy canine teeth, eyeglasses, sailor suit school girl uniform, night scene, summer, poolside, etc.) it is extraordinarily useful as a dataset of images.

With NovelAI, an operator could pump out dozens and dozens of artwork with a few prompts, and all of the artwork belonged to the operator. Not all of the illustrations created by the AI was picturesque, but sometimes the achieved output that could stand next to art work created by a human being and it would not look out of place.

Properly calibrated, NovelAI could mimic art style of established artists. It would be possible to instruct the program to create a certain character in the art style of an unrelated artist in a specified situation. The results would very, but sometimes the output is convincing enough to fool the casual glance.

Assessing the strengths of AI art

Let me be clear that when we are talking about AI art programs, we are not talking about computer with the capacity to learn, think, and create. In the context of contemporary (2022) computing, AI is shorthand for complex algorithm-led machine learning system created by a programmer and controlled by a human operator, or software capabilities that mimic that mode of operation. Machine learning’s operations is created by a human and executed in accordance to parameters that are specified by people. Unlike AI in science fiction, AI operations do not involve consciousness nor have the capacity for unlimited associative learning, a stimuli memorization and organization methodology that is considered to be essential in higher organisms.

There is no question that AI-generated art cannot replace real artists. A person cannot be replaced by another person, let alone an AI. (At least until humanity has figured out how to fully replicate a person, their mind and body and all, and as it stands, our understanding of the two is pretty shaky at best.)

AI art programs are still very dependent on pre-existing material for a dataset it can work with and it is very difficult to achieve polished results unless you have a specific presentation in mind. It recognizes consistent patterns that are common in certain subjects and breaks down art into elements that can be reconstructed together. While the seamlessness of how this is done is breathtaking, computers cannot come up with original ideas on its own.

However, the parable of infinite monkey theorem (that monkeys hitting keys at random on a typewriter over an infinite amount of time might produce notable literature) does hold with AI-generated illustrations. Because it is so easy for an operator to produce huge libraries of illustrations with AI art programs, and because human being have the capacity to see patterns, symbols and features embedded in seemingly chaotic and random elements in the environment and consequently discern meaning in them (e.g. identifying human faces in wood grain patterns, etc.), it is possible for AI-generated illustration to become the catalyst in creating genuinely innovative artwork.

The ability for machines to produce “new” content that be deciphered and enjoyed by human beings is not particularly novel. People have played games against machines for decades. It’s been possible to randomly generate game levels that players can traverse through. The programming has gotten so good to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell if game level is hand made or created randomly by a machine. Machine language translations of content has gained considerable steam since the mid-2010s. AI tools that help craft original stories involving human interaction has advanced considerably since late-2010s.

What makes AI-generated art so different from what has come before is the illustrative nature of the computer output. Here, computers are not creating strings of text that have to read, but instead they are pumping artwork that can be glanced quickly. People must read text and interpret its meaning. Most people find it difficult to shuffle through reams of text to see which presentation is better than others. But with AI art, it takes very little time to judge if something is pleasing or unattractive. While the accuracy may not be high, most people can examine art much faster than they can read text. So it is easier to people to judge if something is notable or not with artwork, and this is where the fast rate with which computers can produce illustrations is very different from what has come about before.

Artist’s reactions to AI art

We are still at the early stages in the advent of AI-generated art, so it is very difficult to speculate what their impact will be in the realm of human creativity and artistic communities.

In the immediate term, issues of plagiarism, debates over originality, the nature of creatively, ethical treatment of artist, and other topics will dominate discourse on this subject. Some Japanese artists are specifying that they do not want their artwork to be integrated into a dataset that AI art programs use. But as it stands now in October 2022, there are few recourses available to artists to try to stop AI from incorporating their creations. So far, the fair use doctrine in US copyright laws makes AI learning legal, while in Japan, the 2018 copyright law revision included a specific clause that legalized machine learning of copyrighted material.

Numerous artists demanded that their illustrations be removed from Danbooru, the art imageboard that acts as an art repository. But the entire website has already been cloned and available for download. Furthermore, coders have devised computer scripts that can automatically categorize artwork. While Danbooru may go bare, there are numerous other art repositories that can provide valuable datasets for AI art programs, so it is unlikely that restricting the collection of data will be effective at this point.

Many people have found AI-generated distasteful because it effectively feeds off of creative contributions and artistic achievements made by others in the past and is freeloading of their hard work. While this may be distasteful, it is most likely legal. If computers can transform preexisting art to such a degree that it is unrecognizable from what it derived from, then it is doing nothing different from what people do. Logic dictates that if it’s legal for people to do it, then letting people do it via computers should also be legal as well. The issue is not the method, but instead the issue here is with its ease, its scale and its accuracy.

Legality and ethical considerations

As I have already mentioned before, it is possible to produce illustrations that mimic other artists without their involvement. Generally speaking, copyright does not cover an art style in of it self. If I create a paining of the moon landing in the style of Salvador Dali, it is still considered my art work and I can copyright it. Imitating other people’s art has been an integral component in artistic development ever since human beings starting creating art. We imitate, replicate and learn in the process, eventually moving on to create our own art style. The art community assumes that people will evolve in how they express themselves and eventually blossom to be an artist that can create material independently. At the very least, the assumption is that there will be some degree of creativity involved in the process of remixing, imitation, and replication. No human being can reproduce something exactly as how others have done so, but computers can.

The ability of computers to mass-produce huge quantities of artwork in the style of other people poses some serious questions. If someone were to perfectly replicating my art style to the point that audiences could not discern the difference between my art and the imitated art, and if the imitated art was saturating creative platforms and public forums to the point where my own creations becomes completely marginalized, is there rationale for me to file for unfair competition? What if somebody was uploading countless artwork that was a near perfect replica of my art style while advancing a political agenda that I do not agree with? Fair use assumes a certain degree of a level playing field that AI-generated art might be able to disrupt easily and effortlessly.

While forgeries in art have a long history, how AI-generated art might threaten the livelihood and reputation of artists may be better framed in terms of deepfakes and defamation. How this will play out in the future is hard to predict currently, but certain assumption we had regarding the nature of creative arts are being seriously challenged.

For example, it has now become very easy to incorporate someone else’s work-in-progress into an AI art program and finish the artwork before the original creator had a chance to do it. It’s also possible to incorporate other people’s material and mask their contribution. Artists continually evolve and their art style will more than often change over time. But it would be possible to for an AI to imitate an artist’s style and characters from 20 years ago. Even if you could prevent someone from being monetarily compensated from that AI-generated art, some artists may prefer not to see “new” material of their old art flooding the creative communities.

AI-generated art poses unique ethical issues that have yet to be addressed, and this has turned some to abhor their involvement in their communities.

Since many original IP holders like to employ fan art of themselves into their promotional efforts, some of them have designated Twitter hashtags that fans can attach to their uploads to indicate the original IP holder can freely use such fan art. This setup works in an honor system where the uploader is the genuine about what they are uploading. Perhaps because AI-generated art is hard to discern as being creative or not, many Vtubers have started to ask that those who use AI art programs either to clearly label AI-generated artwork, or refrain from uploading AI-generated artwork with the official hashtags all together.

Some art platforms, art commission mediators and marketplaces have started to either restrict or reject all AI-generated art. The reasoning for this relates to how the debate over the nature of creative ownership regarding these illustrations is still in flux, as well as the fact that since it is so easy to produce huge amount of AI generated art in a short amount of time, AI-generated art can easily out-pace what human artists are capable of. I want to touch on this point more later on as the economic implications are immense.

Isn’t AI art tools just another tool? Yes and no.

But before we go any further, we must address the fact it will not be easy to separate AI-generated art from traditional art. Since text prompted AI art is generated by an algorithm, it is conceivably possible to use an AI to see if a particular illustration contains tell-tale signs that it was AI-generated. This maybe possible to a certain degree, but there are many different ways of introducing human elements to an AI-generated artwork to camouflage its origins.

Furthermore, many artists have shown an interest in using AI-generated art as a means to enhance their artwork. For example, while the manga narrative revolves around the principle characters in the foreground, there are instances where having characters in the background is important to the setting. If the manga artist can afford it, they may employ assistants who can draw these incidental characters in the background. While the steps involving creating the layout of the manga panels and narrative flow are integral to the story, much of the background artwork and texturing of numerous graphical elements may not be necessarily intrinsic to the story but still has to be completed. A lot of manga production involves numerous steps that are rather mundane. Consequently, if an artist cannot afford an assistant and do not have time to do it themselves, then they might use copyright free stock images or graphical elements as a substitute. The question then is, would it detract from the art substantially if these mundane steps were conducted by AI instead? After all, many fine art painting are in fact collaborative efforts involving the apprentices working below accomplished artists. Does this make them any less remarkable?

We must also examine the possibility of those would like to illustrate their stories or realize a vision, but cannot for any number of reasons. If an AI can empower someone to produce artwork that could not exist otherwise, is that not validation of its utility?

In my mind, AI-generated art is a tool, but a tool with wide-ranging ramifications. It can be abused but it can also be a lifesaver. It can stifle innovation, but if used appropriately, it can accelerate and enhance creativity. While individual views (micro) regarding AI-generated art and other creative tools are important, I also believe this innovation must be examined from a societal (macro) perspective since its impact is so monumental.

The (possible) societal and economic impact of AI-generated art

In economics, we study how different means of production results in different outcomes. Some means and resources are more efficient than others. For example, using chemical fertilizer will make fields more productive and create larger crop yields, improving the productivity of a given area. But the overuse of fertilizers can result in the overflow of rich nutrients into the runoff that feeds into the local rivers and oceans, eventually adversely impacting the biological balance in the local marine ecology and negatively impacting the fishing industry and all those that are dependent on them. The fisherman and the consumers of fish are suffering from a consequence that resulted from the farmer’s choice.

This type of pollution and its negative impact is one example of an external cost or externality—A cost or consequence that do not directly involve a given economic transaction, but nonetheless impacts others in a tangible way. Individually, these external costs may not amount to much, but when couple together with many others, the externality can have a huge impact that influences people far and near. Driving cars individually causes minimal problems. Millions driving cars cause major problems.

Externalities are not just limited to pollution. It can be argued that the American insistence on utilizing the Imperial system of measurements creates a negative externality to all those who do not use it. Nearly the entire globe uses the metric system, but because America is the single largest economy in the world and its preferences have a huge sway, many standards continue to be demarcated in Imperial units to the frustration of all those who use the metric system.

The use of AI-generation as a means of production will more than likely result in similar externalities. While the operator who uses the AI art tool enjoys a positive boost to their productivity, the widespread employment of AI art tools could create situations where those who do not rely on AI might be under suspicion of using them. And while this following point is more related to the concept of dumping, if massive amount of artwork is flooding the market, then there is a strong chance that creators will have a harder time making a living. If an artwork can be created in a few clicks of a button, why hire artists that have to be paid? Not everybody is an enthusiastic fan of those who create the art as some only care about the product.

It must be stated that this is not a guaranteed outcome. The advent of AI art might result in more attention being placed on the human touch and the demand for human art may increase. However, I do believe that the landscape of the creative industry might change dramatically in the future as AI art’s involvement and advancement will cumulatively bring about major changes in ways that cannot be anticipated right now.

AI art’s greatest impact

As it stands, the single greatest impact of AI-generated art is not about how illustrations can be created by computer algorithms, but instead the greatest impact revolves around the fact that huge amounts of art can be created easily, quickly and anonymously. Artists strive hard to create works that match certain expectations as much as possible, but the greatest obstacle that impedes an artist in their quest to realize their goals is not talent nor skill nor creativity, but instead time. Time is the greatest limiting factor for all creators and I believe AI-generated tools will have a profound negative impact on how artists can allocate time.

Yes, AI tools can make artists more productive, but on the flipside, this also means that expectations against artists to be create elaborate, detailed, and fast will increase. It will be harder for many artists to spend time thinking and trying out different things when other can produce accomplished works much faster if they rely on algorithms.

I am reminded of how advances of technology had pivotal impact on certain economic activities. The invention of photography, records and audio tape, automobiles and motor transport… The list goes on and on.

Each innovation enhanced productivity and helped improve the lives of many. At the same time, each of these resulted in certain external costs that were first not so apparent. Photography resulted in major shifts in the artist profession. The introduction of musical recordings fundamentally altered the relationship between the public and musical presentations. Automobiles changed how people lived their lives and transformed living spaces.

Now AI-generated artwork will change how society and people will interrelate with art.

Historical patterns in technological innovation and marketplace reaction

As a general rule, when the supply of a given service or commodity or product suddenly increases in a given market, either through a particular invention or major transition in how goods and/or services are disseminated, prices will fall and consolidation will take place.

When the supply of shoes in a local market suddenly increases, smaller shoemakers that cannot adapt will close shop while the more competitive manufacturers will expand their business. When photography suddenly becomes common place thanks to an added feature to smart phones, the demand for cameras decreased and the number of camera manufactures diminished.

As competition suddenly increases, there will be a strong pressure for business and purveyors to gravitate toward providing higher value added products and services to keep afloat, or to change their price structure so that they can reorient toward a mass market business model.

When a glut happens, the market will soon be dominated by lower priced products/services. Originally the market may have been comprised by a high-tier, a mid-tier, and a low-tier structure. The lower-tier will become the majority and the mid-tier will increasingly become scarce while the high-tier will aim to specialize and stay above the fray. Later on, the mid-tier elements of the market may come to be appreciated once more, but by that time the market structure has been fundamentally changed to prohibit the variability of a mid-tier service/product provider and the market will be comprised primarily of a lower-tier provider that promises ubiquity at a lower cost yet with bare-bones services/products.

Eventually, the nature of the lower-tier product/service provider will invite a transition whereby the provider will aim to change their business model so that they can simultaneously take advantage of their market dominance and increase their profitability. Since the lower-tier product/service that they already provide has minimal value due to it ubiquity and lack of specialization, there is a strong incentive to either add incremental services with which they can charge higher sums and/or couple their business with a product/service that is more lucrative. In many cases, what was formerly an independently viable business will coalesce to become part of a larger multifaceted industrial enterprise. History abounds with examples of this metamorphosis.

Phone services were originally an independent business endeavor. In many countries, telecoms were public utility enterprises, but then privatization transformed them into become competing agents in the free market, which then lead to technological innovation that invited in market consolidation, and ubiquity of their services resulted in many telecoms to become part of larger IT service providers. It has become harder to simply subscribe to a simple phone service—Business would like you to subscribe to an ISP and/or cable TV service.

Musical performance where the mainstay of public entertainment, and even after the invention of audio recording, live performances were plenty. But with the widespread employment of radio broadcasting and television performances, live musical performances evolved to become a premium service since the market was dominated by lower-tier services/products. Eventually cassette tapes and CD were replaced by Internet streaming and subscription services, whereby musical playback devices where consolidated to be part of smart phones and IoT home entertainment systems.

Will AI art be a game-changer?

This type of consolidation of the product/service is nothing new. However, it is important to keep in mind that art and other cultural products have some numerous qualities that are unique to them. Unlike cars or home appliances, you are not pressured to choose one and negate others. Unlike phone services, the enjoyment one experiences from a particular artist cannot be easily replaced by others.

Even while an AI art program might replicate what I create, and its creations might flood the market with material that is similar to mine, my art is still something that only I can create.

At the same time, the value that is attached to art is subjective. If one person is perfectly happy with the facsimile of my art created by an AI art program, then my involvement in the production of my own art is a mute point. If AI-generated illustrations better gratifies the needs of a particular consumer, then they will find utility in that AI-generated art that goes beyond what other human being provides.

As I stated previously, the single most revolutionary element of AI-generated art is that it can be produced very quickly, and therefore the cost associated with the production of that art is much lesser than of human created art.

Opportunity cost (the cost of choosing A over B) is directly correlated to resources being demanded in securing any given product/service. Buying a yacht is not a cheap endeavor. One must forfeit large sums of money and devote time toward learning how to sail one and be willing to incur the costs associated with maintaining a yacht. Paying an artist to produce specific piece of art also incurs a considerable cost, because you are tying that person down toward creating something just for you.

On the other hand the opportunity cost involved in AI-generated content is miniscule.

There may be instances where the funds you have available in a particular creative project may be so limited that it precludes the possibility of hiring a team of professional creators. But as AI-generated illustrative content can be made available at the fraction of the cost, projects that may have been unrealistic in the past will now become viable.

The predictable end result is that the total amount of creative content that is available in the marketplace will probably increase exponentially, while at the same the value that is attached to that said content may diminish considerably, especially in certain fields.

Since AIs can be fine-tuned to reproduce an artist’s art style, the value attached to that art style may, in certain cases, go down. However, this is not a guaranteed result. The desirability of particular piece of entertainment is entirely subjective. Some may ascribe a higher value than others over a given product, and if more people enter the marketplace as consumers, then the value attached to a particular creative property may rise. Be that is may be the case, it is important to realize that the power of mass produced art will most likely inflict external costs in the form of oversaturation of the marketplace. What used to be marketable simply because it was refined and accomplished may lose is luster when the creative marketplace is flooded with similarly polished content.

“You want fries with that anime waifu?”

We may enter an age of “fast art” similar to fast food. The demand for traditional restaurants will never disappear, but what used to be an average, mundane offering as become elevated to being a high end cuisine in some circumstances. Audiences previously could previously directly experience live classical and band music for modest prices. Now most of the public have to satisfy themselves with recordings while concerts are aimed toward the connoisseurs who are willing to pay a premium to enjoy live performances.

There is no doubt that the introduction of AI-generated art will create opportunities that we cannot easily predict at the moment. However, it is equal clear that, if AI-generated art becomes pervasive, which is still a big if, then it will result in externalities that will impact artists, especially for those who will enter into the marketplace in the future.

At the very least, a demarcation will exist for those artists who had been active prior to the summer of 2022 with those who started become active after AI-generated art become widely available. Some artist who were active prior to this date may incorporate AI art tools in the future, while same artists that enter into the creative scene after this date might reject AI art tools. Nevertheless, I suspect that a certain degree of suspicion may be cast upon artists who recently jumped into the creative community, however unfair that may be..

We must also keep in mind that the introduction of AI-generated illustrations is taking place just when huge numbers of non-Japanese people are increasing entering into the creative landscape. Also, while the non-Japanese market for manga and anime continues to grow, the Japanese market is predicted to plateau and possibly start to shrink due to demographics within Japan.

Where are we going?

One possible outcome is that consolidation will take place, where those on the very top will thrive in an ever larger market, and those who specialize in niche subjects will be able to carve out an exclusive living space for themselves, but for many aspiring professionals, the creative ecosystem will be chronically short on financial sustainability due to oversaturation and an hyper-competitive landscape. The vast majority of artist may have to resort to being amateur hobbyists, not because they are unaccomplished, but simply because it is too difficult to sustain oneself financially as an artist.

Another related possibility is for the rise of artist exceptionalism and how that might be tied to artistic validity. Everybody is unique, but some are more unique than others, and in some cases, that uniqueness will translate into marketability. The remarkable life stories of individuals does not precipitate that their artistic achievement are more notable than others, but it does make for griping stories and audiences tend to find tales involving people who overcame adversity to be quite worthwhile.

Celebrity status of artists and creators is nothing new, but how some artists promote themselves on YouTube and other streaming platforms, sometimes capitalizing on their multitalented expressive facets, have facilitated at new degree of international mass-market stardom that one struggles to find parallels of in the past. Because the competition is so fierce, creators must self-promote themselves much more aggressively than before. Being multilingual, having the ability to entertain audiences in a live setting, and to be accomplished in artistic and/ or entertainment abilities that go beyond the traditional confines of illustrative arts and authors seems to have become standard means necessary to secure an larger audience.

On a more optimistic note, the entry to AI art programs might re-kindle interest toward traditional media (pen and paper) and place a higher value on world-building, storytelling, and narrative variation. The introduction of photography heavily influenced the artistic and commercial painting community in the 19th century. Impressionism and abstractionism transformed the art community forever, while technological advances allowed graphical design to innovate and democratized publishing. Photography may have had a negative impact on painters that focused solely on portraits for the mass market, but painters and creators learned to adapt to the changing environment.

It is plausible that incorporating AI-generated art assets will become mundane within the art production world. This can have negative consequences in that people may expect artists to be hyper-productive. As it stands, many Japanese manga and generalist artists already complain about how readers and editors expect their output to be not just passable and functional but must be dense, intricate and stellar, even while their pay stays the same or is even less then before. Overworking is a major issue and AI art programs can both alleviate this or contribute to this problem.

Reassessing our future

Creative industries always go through transition. This is nothing new. But the pace at which the creative landscape is transforming has become simply breathtaking and almost incomprehensible for those who were born in the 20th century. I am reminded of how photography fundamentally altered the visual medium of human expression, but it is important to keep in mind that photography’s encroachment into the domain of classical painting was incremental and gradual. The true nature of the revolutionary and innovative aspects of photography and how it impacted traditional painters unfolded over the course of many decades.

But here we are, watching how AI-generated art is completely rewriting rules over the course of what seems like 5 weeks. It has now become impossibly hard to predict what will become of anime and manga in the next 5 months, but I hope a new equilibrium will come into being that will empower and enhance the lives of all artists and their audiences. Ideally, we want technology to benefit not only those who enjoy advantages due to their tech acumen or market dominance, but everybody, for the heart and soul of creativity is a human trait that should be shared and cherished by many.

If the current situation is left unchecked, we may have a massive hallowing-out effect take place where the financial rewards and community recognition of new, innovative art diminished to the point where new participants would be discouraged. I can think of numerous examples in the arts where market conditions changed so rapidly that the field atrophied and became frozen in time. It would be very saddening if the same fate awaits for manga and anime.

My own personal postscript

I tried my best to let my emotions at bay as I wrote this piece regarding AI-generated art. I feel this technology has the capacity to bring about monumental change, so I wanted to focus on trying to get a bird’s eye view of the impact AI-generated art might have. Regardless, I am certain my own personal sentiments intermixed with what I presented.

My personal opinion is that AI art programs are nothing more than a too, and it can be used for numerous beneficial ends. As the saying goes, “a bad workman always blames his tools.” It is my belief that anyone with rich imagination, who is passionate about his/her creations, or can envision different scenes within his/her mind can create interesting works regardless of the tools that are available. I feel AI art programs have the capacity to vastly widen the range of what people can create.

AI art programs can make itself very useful in making collages and helping artists come up with new ideas, they can assist creators in different supplementary roles, and help them gather ideas, as well as simplify layout checking and color calibration. If you combine multiple AI programs, it should be easy to come up with an AI Vtuber. It would also be possible to come up with a game with predetermined concept and parameters that continually creates new content for the player to enjoy. If you combine these elements with VR and AR (augmented reality) technology,, it should even be possible to build a world all your own.

But a world that prioritizes comfort for yourself above everything else is a world that rejects the presence of others.

Art AI programs have a strong degree self-serving elements to it and it’s easy to abuse its power. Using its powers to enable a single individual to create extremely complex artistic creations not only has the capacity to decrease the value of entertainment and artistic creations, but also may threaten the worth attached collaborative efforts. Any party with large stocks of previous creations at their disposal will have the ability to endlessly create new works using that dataset they have access to. I believe AI art programs can not only enable people without artistic acumen to make money off of other people’s artistic efforts, but the technology it represents has the potential to amplify the laziness and consolidation of power of those who have access to large bodies of works under their command.

The power of computers to process huge amounts of information in blinding fast speed can bring about huge consequences by engaging in activities that no one predicted in the past and/or abusing the information it provides. Stock price manipulation and the marginalization of certain racial groups’ voting strength through gerrymandering have been problems that have been around prior to the rise of computers, but executing those operations on a wide-scale was previously prohibitive difficult, but that is no longer the case and real life harm has come about as a result of this technological advancement. It would be naïve to believe that would not come about from the rise of AI-generated art.

With regards to AI art programs, I am inclined to believe there are aspects to it that can threaten the trust between creators and their audiences, and amplify discord within artistic communities. While the public is captivated by the rise and fall of famous creators and popular franchises, those parties that control the means of distribution and exchange (platforms) wield far more power and accumulate larger fortunes. While most think of AI art programs as a means of creating illustrations, in fact it is a type of platform where users must access the program to create output, and it would be easy to envision a world in the future where an AI art program’s functionality would be intertwined with art posting/ archiving sites, social networking services and streaming sites, as well as content retailer storefronts. I hope this will not create a situation where a tool that was invented to help people create in fact become a new hegemon that controls and restricts creations.

In the end, a creation cannot come about without the active efforts on the part of the creator. Even when there are no audiences there, an accomplished creative work can come into being through the firm determination on the part of the creator. The world is full of works that are nothing more than cheap hacks. Even commercially successful titles may be in fact be sloppy, half-finished creations. The desire to create something that will satisfy immature audiences, to come up with something that will fill patch a gap in that arose, to simply create something to fulfill a quota—these motivations might drive a party to employ an AI to create content, and in certain case, that content might prove to be commercial success. Nevertheless, I am convinced creators who tirelessly polish their stories to their best of abilities so that they aim to enthrall wider audiences will continue in take to the stage in future. It is my sincere wish that AIs will not hinder such efforts in any way.

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10 Responses to Deus ex Art Machina – AI Art and its Wide-scale Implications on Japanese Otaku Art

  1. Anon says:

    I do find it interesting that the people who are complaining about reposting without permission are the same people who make money off another persons IP without their permission.

    I mean, let’s be realistic here, the people selling lewd fanart of say… Girls und Panzer, for example, on Fanbox or Patreon or whatever didn’t go to the creator and ask for their permission to do that.

    It’s all so hypocritical…

    • dankanemitsu says:

      Parody and derivative arts are legal unless proven otherwise. It deserves the same protection that original material enjoys.
      Since parody and derivative arts are considered to be part of the Japanese doujinshi ecosystem, it makes sense that people would like to have that material removed from a place that it was never meant to be part of.
      Furthermore, I have yet to see original artists condone piracy more than parody artists.

      • anon says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great they’re able to do that, it’s just they didn’t seek permission to do that in the first place.

  2. anon says:

    Also, whilst I think about it, how would Japan view something like The Internet Archive?

    That site makes copies of everything, including old websites of artists and their works from the earlier 00s, as well as images from pixiv, Twitter, etc.

    Why isn’t that viewed of as being an “unauthorized reproduction site?”

  3. Johnny says:

    Great read along with the snippets from Twitter. I would suspect a lot of sites are banning AI art like skeb. Surprising Pixiv hasn’t have a stance yet with the large amount of AI art posted since the NovelAI announcement.

    But I wanted to know your stance and opinion regarding overseas reprint sites.
    From a perspective of a overseas consumer, I feel that Danbooru and other related booru sites filled a need to allow overseas anime fans to find artwork of their favorite series in a easily searchable way.

    If you were to use Pixiv right now to find specific artwork of your favorite series with specific characteristics like “green eyes”, the results are pretty messy and lackluster. Pixiv has a unique issue where there is multiple names for the same series or even the same characteristics (EN,JP,KR,CN). Compounded that Pixiv only has a maximum of 10 tags.

    Same with twitter for a different reason, there is no good way to find similar art or even recall an artwork you liked only to never find it again because its buried deep in Twitter.

    Danbooru, which surprisingly is older than Pixiv than a few years made it pretty easy to look and find artwork, especially those that don’t know Japanese via tagging characteristics. Many others communities I have seen created their own -booru sites, but like Danbooru, I know these type of websites are very legally gray area.

    Unfortunately this way of tagging every characteristics have made it easy for Machine Learning and other AI trainers to do what NovelAI and other image generators do.

    As an aside, have you looked up yourself in Danbooru?


    • dankanemitsu says:

      I’m glad you liked my piece. I tried my best to see things from a more detached perspective to get a better feel for what’s going on and what might happen in the future.

      Well, actually pixiv has made the decision to implement some new features related to AI-generated art.

      I really can’t sympathize too much with Danbooru because 1) they are (mostly) pirating other people’s content 2) they are robbing people of exposure and interaction 3) the service is (modestly) monetizing the content created by others via subscription services and 4) its structure is ripe for abuse.

      I am aware that Danbooru is not alone, and this is done all the time, but piecemeal uploads make little impact on many things, but the scale with which this is being conducted is the problem. I am also aware that some of these sites provide functionality that is useful for the consumer, but creators may not want that functionality.

      I believe pixiv (its actually not capitalized) is built around communities and while the system has problems, it assumes that people are interested in character first and their attributes second. Yes, it would be nice if pixiv could add the number of tags you can attach to an illustration, but I think the sheer amount of traffic might compromise the system. pixiv serves the entire globe, so it has to be careful.

      The tagging system is very versatile and useful, and I know of problems that allow you to auto-implement tags to artwork, so and it may not be accurate, having a large dataset will be enough to improve its quality.

      Some have said piracy is a data access issue. Implement better user-interface and a flat-rate fee structure and then people won’t use piracy as much. There is a lot of truth to this, but viewing artwork pixiv is a free service. Implementing a better user-interface would be a plus, but if pixiv aims to be art community service as opposed to a datamining service, then it is their decision to do so.

      I also realize that having content on other platforms can create traffic as opposed to rob traffic. But this is a bit shady as well, since you’re essentially saying the ends justifying the means.

      My focus in this article was on attempting to understand how AI art will impact the community, and not the legal dimension of overseas piracy sites. That’s en entirely different debate that that should be conducted separately.

      I have noticed some of my characters being featured on overseas sites, and I might have to address it. If the issue has to do with just my artwork, then it’s simpler, but when it’s a collaboration, then I have to be mindful about my collaborator’s rights.

      Let me be clear in saying I think paywalling everything and using NFTs as a means to control art distribution is not something I am looking forward to, but we may be heading toward that direction. I hope I am wrong.

  4. keychan says:

    Gelbooru is much better and complete, Danbooru is watered down version, lots of H images arent’ allowed there.

  5. Ken Fletcher says:

    Dan Kanemitsu

    Dan —
    Great analysis and background on the recent amazing reveal of AI art.

    You may be interested in a fuzzy account from over 20 years ago. I was acquainted with a local artist who was technically accomplished in traditional-style color painting of (let us say) wild animals in their natural environment. They had some success and recognition in a national niche market that included printed illustrations (and sales of the originals). They were skilled enough with a paint brush to match most appearance from classical academic painting to modern impressionistic painting to current commercial illustration styles. They were approached by a team from a local national high-tech innovative corporation:

    The corporation reps said they were interested in coming up with it’s own hardware and software for a full-color high-definition computer graphics {“painting”) program. The artist agreed to go into a lab setting, where his use of actual brushes and application and mixing of paint, and building up layers of paint on “hard-copy” canvas was visually recorded. He was audio-recorded while narrating his intent in application of paint with his brush, and his vocabulary for the processes, in real time. At the same time, the movements of the brush mixing and picking-up paint on the hard-copy palette, and the placing of the paint from brush onto the canvas, were also recorded in real time.

    That was around the year 2000. The artist talked with me about some of their experience afterward. He and I were both aware of computer graphics, software graphics, and graphics hardware tools in 2000 and how far they were from being technically useful to replicate paint application in real-time. Neither he or I could see what the programmers and their bosses were thinking. We both thought that the intent was to “teach computers to paint”…that seemed to be how this research & experimentation was presented. That seemed like “crazy talk”! The canvas+brush seemed to be massively different from the interaction control of computer video monitor + stylus.

    By 2010, I could remember the conversations we had, when I was discovering that most of the competing graphics software companies were announcing large varieties of “brush” tools as part of their software programming. I now suppose that the developers had been starting a process of researching an artists intent and applications, and used a recording “lab” to harvest an abstract analysis that could be interpreted to help program the “brush tools” of a screen display. I now expect that the local artist I knew was one of many interviewed skilled artists who had been contributing to designing a pattern of research to replicate paint application effects on a computer screen. And that was just one corporation in a moderate-sized city.

    I now assume that some people working in that corporation had been thinking of the replication of painting tools and techniques for a relatively long time.

    Ken Fletcher

    • dankanemitsu says:

      Digital brushes are a big market. They’ve been so for a while, with numerous 3rd parties. Prior to AI art programs, I think the emphasis was on trying to replicate how human beings painted and the different processes that were involved. Art programs had numerous different tools that helped replicate art techniques, and eventually some new filters and different actions (a collection of different processes that allow you to change image elements) started to break new ground and do things that were not even done in traditional art.
      But now with AI art programs, they are jumping ahead of the process and going straight to replicating art that is intelligible to people. The process doesn’t matter anymore, and I fear that this leap in AI art programs will also lead people to no understand the process of art. That would be a very bad thing.

While I may not be able to respond to all comments, I always welcome feedback. Thank you.

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