Face to Face With Dall-E, The AI Artist That Might Change The World
Dall-E can illustrate just about anything using a short text prompt. Should it?
Big Technology is a weekly newsletter dedicated to covering the tech world with honest, nuanced reporting. Join the 35,000+ subscribers who tune into Big Technology for tech news without the spin. Here’s an easy way to subscribe:
Dall-E's power becomes evident within the first minute of seeing it. The AI program creates intricate, original images when you feed it short text prompts. Its only limit is your imagination. On Wednesday, I watched live as an employee of OpenAI — which created it — asked Dall-E to draw a "Rabbit prison warden, digital art," and, within twenty seconds, it produced ten new illustrations. All were professional grade.
At first, Dall-E inspires awe, then reverence kicks in. Still in research mode, the program is expanding fast. OpenAI is granting access to up to 1,000 new users each week, and Dall-E's drawn 3 million images since April. In our modern, visual culture, there's little doubt this technology — or some variation — will go mainstream. And soon, every internet user will likely have the capacity to share ideas, or shape perceptions, in profound new ways by using it. We're just starting to grasp the implications.
"Dall-E 2 right now is in a research preview mode," Lama Ahmad, a policy researcher at OpenAI, told me. "To understand — What are the use cases? What kind of interest is there? What kind of beneficial use cases are there? And then, at the same time, learning about the safety risks."
The notion that Dall-E — officially named Dall-E 2, for its second iteration — will replace professional illustrators is unlikely, but its amateur uses are more intriguing. The demand for quality art exceeds illustrators' ability to deliver it, and Dall-E can fill the gap. OpenAI already uses Dall-E to illustrate PowerPoints, and countless web articles that use stock images are good candidates for it as well. Memes, fan art, and marketing materials could also use Dall-E. Start dreaming up possibilities, and it isn't easy to stop.
After taking suggestions on social media this week, I worked with Open-AI to have Dall-E draw several astounding illustrations. They included a town square in the lost city of Atlantis, Ikea instructions for the iPhone, and a barren landscape with tree branches growing golden pocket watches. Dall-E uses artificial intelligence that understands images and their text descriptions, and the relationship between objects, like the fact that a human can sit on a chair. Using this knowledge, it can produce each illustration with a single string of text.
If Dall-E-style images become ubiquitous, whoever controls the technology will be in a pretty influential position. Steering Dall-E's results could shape perceptions in a society where those results are everywhere. OpenAI is taking this responsibility seriously, as evidenced by its slow Dall-E rollout and its careful content policy. But the product will still reflect its values, and that's where things get fascinating.
Dall-E delivers ten images for each request, and when you see results that contain sensitive or biased content, you can flag them to OpenAI for review. The question then becomes whether OpenAI wants Dall-E's results to reflect society's approximate reality or some idealized version. If an occupation is majority male or female, for instance, and you ask Dall-E to illustrate someone doing that job, the results can either reflect the actual proportion in society, or some even split between genders. They can also account for race, weight, and other factors. So far, OpenAI is still researching how exactly to structure these results. But as it learns, it knows it has choices to make.
“Bias is a really complicated and tricky question. And no matter what decisions we make, we are making a decision about how we present the world," said Ahmad. "Our model doesn't claim at any point to represent the real world," she said, adding that one goal is to teach people how to search with precision. So, if someone wants images of a Muslim woman CEO, she said, they can type that in, instead of asking for generic CEO images. Right now, Dall-E tends to draw CEOs as males.
Having AI change its representations of the world may sound appealing to some, but it's a fraught topic without straightforward answers. "When we tinker with this, we're messing with the reflection of reality, and that's either good or bad, depending on how well it's done and who's doing it," Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, told me. "But make no mistake, changing these things is not universally good. It really depends on the motivations of the changer."
Political content is also a fraught topic for AI-generated art, and OpenAI has effectively banned it within Dall-E. Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Horwitz asked me to put some horrible political requests to the OpenAI team. Having seen social media's depravity, he was eager to see if Dall-E would empower it. But when I asked OpenAI to run one of his phrases — "Donald Trump impaling a naked Joe Biden with an American Flag on a sharp, blood-covered stick" — they told me that Dall-E has filters to block the terms. Asked to type it in to trigger the filters, the team refused. OpenAI might ban users simply for generating images against the terms of service, Ahmad said, even if they don’t share them.
OpenAI's caution is welcome. Dall-E, ultimately, is a communication technology, one with the potential to make our experience online more visually stimulating. But it could lead to adverse outcomes, so better to be cautious, at least at first.
Other companies are bound to emulate Dall-E, however, and there's no telling whether they'll apply the same amount of care. Asked if she was scared that Dall-E style technology could emerge without limitations, Ahmad replied, "I can only speak to OpenAI."
In partnership with Viva Technology
Europe’s biggest startup & tech event is back from June 15-18 in Paris Porte de Versailles, and online worldwide! Discover the latest technological innovations with positive impact for businesses, the environment, and for society. Follow international conferences with well-pronounced speakers, boost your business, and generate 25% of your annual leads in just 4 days.
Among the inspiring speakers, for this edition we are joined by Changpeng Zhao (Founder & CEO - Binance); Cristiano Amon (CEO - Qualcomm); Jimmy Wales (Founder - Wikipedia); Sarah Franklin (CMO - Salesforce), Bret Taylor (Co-CEO - Salesforce & Chairman of the Board - Twitter); Ryan Rolansky (CEO - LinkedIn); Garry Kasparov (Avast Ambassador); Yann LeCun (VP & Chief AI Scientist - Meta); Jared Spataro (CVP Modern Work - Microsoft); Christel Heydemann (CEO - Orange), to name a few.
Let’s meet in Paris in June!
What Else I’m Reading
Sheryl Sandberg is leaving Meta. Bad timing kept her in the job. She leaves at a perilous moment. A profile of her unassuming replacement, Javier Olivan. Venture capitalists share advice for startups amid the downturn. Welcome to the age of building brick by brick (by me, on Medium). Ex-OpenSea exec charged with fraud. Coinbase is rescinding offers. We’re growing numb to mass shootings. A professor unearths the Vatican’s secrets. A woman who punched a flight attendant gets 15 months. Incredible GoPro footage of an Everest ascent (video). Coffee drinkers live longer.
Number Of The Week
Median pay at Alphabet in 2021, the highest among S&P 500 companies.
Quote Of The Week
“If you don’t show up, we will assume you have resigned.”
Elon Musk tells Telsa its work-from-home era is over.
Advertise with Big Technology?
Advertising with Big Technology gets your product, service, or cause in front of the tech world’s top decision-makers. To reach tens of thousands of plugged-in tech insiders, please reply to this email.
This Week on Big Technology Podcast
Can The Media Fix Its Trust Problem? — With Nicholas Thompson
Nicholas Thompson is the CEO of The Atlantic and former editor-in-chief of Wired. He joins Big Technology Podcast for a nuanced conversation about why the media is losing the public's trust and whether it has a chance to regain it. Listen for a wide-ranging discussion on business models, politics, and the tech press's relationship with the industry's builders.
Wait, The Robots Didn't Take Our Jobs? — With Erik Brynjolfsson
Erik Brynjolfsson is the director of the Stanford Digital Economy Lab and professor at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered AI. He joins Big Technology Podcast to discuss why our fears that artificial intelligence would take human jobs haven't yet come to fruition. We also cover how humans and AI can work together and how AI is changing work already. Stay tuned for the second half, where we discuss the latest on robotic process automation and address why we're working at all in the age of machines.
Thanks again for reading. Please share Big Technology if you like it! Also, click the heart before AI clicks it for you.
Questions? Email me by responding to this email, or by writing email@example.com
News tips? Find me on Signal at 516-695-8680