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This project at University of Chicago aims at thwarting artificial intelligence from mimicking artistic styles – details

Anyone who has held paper and a paintbrush knows the effort it goes into making a piece of art.

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While artificial intelligence (AI) is doing its thing, an academic research group of PhD students and professors at the University of Chicago, USA, have launched a tool to thwart it.

Anyone who has held paper and a paintbrush knows the effort it goes into making a piece of art. The effort went for a toss last year when our timelines across social media platforms got inundated by AI-generated artworks, stunning yet scary to fathom. Machines replacing human labour is something we have often heard, that it could happen to artists was somewhat inconceivable. And that an AI tool can generate artwork by just mere prompts can leave any artist uneasy.

While artificial intelligence (AI) is doing its thing, an academic research group of PhD students and professors at the University of Chicago, USA, have launched a tool to thwart it. Glaze is their academic research project aimed at thwarting AI from mimicking the style of artists. “What if you could add a cloak layer to your digital artwork that makes it harder for AI to mimic? Say hello to Glaze,” it says on its website.

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“Glaze is a tool to help artists to prevent their artistic styles from being learned and mimicked by new AI-art models such as MidJourney, Stable Diffusion and their variants. It is a collaboration between the University of Chicago SAND Lab and members of the professional artist community, most notably Karla Ortiz. Glaze has been evaluated via a user study involving over 1,100 professional artists,” Glaze’s website reads.

Glaze Beta2 has been made available for download starting March 18.

Cloaking artwork

It is a normal exercise for several artists to post their work online to build a portfolio and even earn from it. However, generative AI tools have been equipped to create artworks in the same style after just seeing a few of the original ones.

This is what Glaze aims to thwart by creating a cloaked version of the original image.

“Glaze generates a cloaked version for each image you want to protect. During this process, none of your artwork will ever leave your own computer. Then, instead of posting the original artwork online, you could post the cloaked artwork to protect your style from AI art generators,” it says.

The way it happens is, when an artist wants to post her work online but does not want AI to mimic it, she can upload her work, in digital form, to Glaze. The tool then makes a few changes, which are hardly visible to the human eye. “We refer to these added changes as a ‘style cloak’ and changed artwork as ‘cloaked artwork,’” it says. While the cloaked artwork appears identical to the original to humans, the machine picks up the altered version. Hence, whenever it gets a prompt, say “Mughal women in south Delhi in MF Husain style,” the artwork generated by AI will be very different from the said artist’s style. This protects the artistic style to be mimicked without the artist’s consent.

While Glaze Beta2 is available for download, the research is under peer review.

Not a permanent solution

Glaze, however, has its share of shortcomings. Like changes made to certain artworks that have flat colours and smooth backgrounds, such as animation styles, are more visible. “While this is not unexpected, we are searching for methods to reduce the visual impact for these styles,” the makers say.

Also, “unfortunately, Glaze is not a permanent solution against AI mimicry,” they say. It is because, “AI evolves quickly, and systems like Glaze face an inherent challenge of being future-proof. Techniques we use to cloak artworks today might be overcome by a future countermeasure, possibly rendering previously protected art vulnerable,” they add.

Although the tool is far from perfect, its utility for artists is beyond any doubt. The issue becomes all the more glaring when one considers multiple artists who find it tough to earn a decent living through this craft. The AI companies, on the other hand, many of whom charge a subscription fee, earn millions.

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Rules and laws are yet to catch up with the pace at which AI is advancing, leaving little for artists to fight with to protect their work. This is where projects like Glaze rise to prominence.

“It is important to note that Glaze is not panacea, but a necessary first step towards artist-centric protection tools to resist AI mimicry. We hope that Glaze and followup projects will provide some protection to artists while longer term (legal, regulatory) efforts take hold,” it says on Glaze’s website.

Meanwhile, the technology has already hopped to the next stop. The startup Runway AI has come up with a video generator that generates videos, merely by a prompt.

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First published on: 26-03-2023 at 00:30 IST