Issues around AI text to art generators

A new art-generating AI system called Stable Diffusion can create convincing deepfakes, including of celebrities.

TechCrunch has a nice discussion of Deepfakes for all: Uncensored AI art model prompts ethics questions. The relatively sudden availability of AI text to art generators has provoked discussion on the ethics of creation and of large machine learning models. Here are some interesting links:

It is worth identifying some of the potential issues:

  • These art generating AIs may have violated copyright in scraping millions of images. Could artists whose work has been exploited sue for compensation?
  • The AIs are black boxes that are hard to query. You can’t tell if copyrighted images were used.
  • These AIs could change the economics of illustration. People who used to commission and pay for custom art for things like magazines, book covers, and posters, could start just using these AIs to save money. Just as Flickr changed the economics of photography, MidJourney could put commercial illustrators out of work.
  • We could see a lot more “original” art in situations where before people could not afford it. Perhaps poster stores could offer to generate a custom image for you and print it. Get your portrait done as a cyberpunk astronaut.
  • The AIs could reinforce visual bias in our visual literacy. Systems that always see Philosophers as old white guys with beards could limit our imagination of what could be.
  • These could be used to create pornographic deepfakes with people’s faces on them or other toxic imagery.

Zampolli Prize Awarded to Voyant Tools

Spyral Notebook Detail (showing code cell and stacked graphs)

Yesterday I gave the triennial Zampolli Prize lecture that honoured Voyant. The lecture is given at the annual ADHO Digital Humanities conference which this year is being hosted by the University of Tokyo. The award notice is here Zampolli Prize Awarded to Voyant Tools. Some of the things I touched on in the talk included:

  • The genius of of Stéfan Sinclair who passed in August 2020. Voyant was his vision from the time of his dissertation for which he develop HyperPo.
  • The global team of people involved in Voyant including many graduate research assistants at the U of Alberta. See the About page of Voyant.
  • How Voyant built on ideas Stéfan and I developed in Hermeneutica about collaborative research as opposed to the inherited solitary paradigm.
  • How we have now developed an extension to Voyant called Spyral. Spyral is a notebook programming environment built on JavaScript. It allows you to document your Voyant explorations, save parameters for corpora and tools, preprocess texts, postprocess results, and create new visualizations. It is, in short, a full data analysis and visualization environment built into Voyant so you can easily call up and explore results in Voyant’s already rich tool set.
  • In the image above you can see a Spyral code cell that outputs two stacked graphs where the same pattern of words is graphed over two different, but synchronized, corpora. You can thus compare the use of the pattern over time between the two datasets.
  • Replication as a practice for recovering an understanding of innovative technologies now taken for granted like tokenization or the KWIC. I talked about how Stéfan and I have been replicating important text processing technologies as a way of understanding the history of computing and the digital humanities. Spyral was the environment we developed for documenting our replications.
  • I then backed up and talked about the epistemological questions about knowledge and knowledge things in the digital age that grew out of and then inspired our experiments in replication. These go back to attempts to think-through tools as knowledge things that bear knowledge in ways that discourse doesn’t. In this context I talked about the DIKW pyramid (data, information, knowledge, wisdom) that captures current views about the relationships between data and knowledge.
  • Finally I called for help to maintain and extend Voyant/Spyral. I announced the creation of a consortium to bring us together to sustain Voyant.

It was an honour to be able to give the Zampolli lecture on behalf of all the people who have made Voyant such a useful tool.

Replication, Repetition, or Revivification

A short essay I wrote with Stéfan Sinclair on “Recapitulation, Replication, Reanalysis, Repetition, or Revivification” is now up in preprint form. The essay is part of a longer work on “Anatomy of tools: A closer look at ‘textual DH’ methodologies.” The longer work is a set of interventions looking at text tools. These came out of a ADHO SIG-DLS (Digital Literary Studies) workshop that took place in Utrecht in July 2019.

Our intervention at the workshop had the original title “Zombies as Tools: Revivification in Computer Assisted Interpretation” and concentrated on practices of exploring old tools – a sort of revivification or bringing back to life of zombie tools.

The full paper should be published soon by DHQ.

ImageGraph: a visual programming language for the Visual Digital Humanities

Leonardo Impett has a nice demonstration here of  ImageGraph: a visual programming language for the Visual Digital Humanities. ImageGraph is a visual programming environment that works with Google Colab. When you have your visual program you can compile it into Python in a Colab notebook and then run that notebook. The visual program is stored in your Github account and the Python code can, of course, be used in larger projects.

The visual programming language has a number of functions for handling images and using artificial intelligence techniques on them. It also has text functions, but they are apparently not fully worked out.

I love the way Impett combines off the shelf systems while adding a nice visual development environment. Very clean.

Facial Recognition: What Happens When We’re Tracked Everywhere We Go?

When a secretive start-up scraped the internet to build a facial-recognition tool, it tested a legal and ethical limit — and blew the future of privacy in America wide open.

The New York Times has an in depth story about Clearview AI titled, Facial Recognition: What Happens When We’re Tracked Everywhere We Go? The story tracks the various lawsuits attempting to stop Clearview and suggests that Clearview may well win. They are gambling that scraping the web’s faces for their application, even if it violated terms of service, may be protected as free speech.

The story talks about the dangers of face recognition and how many of the algorithms can’t recognize people of colour as accurately which leads to more false positives where police end up arresting the wrong person. A broader worry is that this could unleash tracking at another scale.

There’s also a broader reason that critics fear a court decision favoring Clearview: It could let companies track us as pervasively in the real world as they already do online.

The arguments in favour of Clearview include the challenge that they are essentially doing to images what Google does to text searches. Another argument is that stopping face recognition enterprises would stifle innovation.

The story then moves on to talk about the founding of Clearview and the political connections of the founders (Thiel invested in Clearview too). Finally it talks about how widely available face recognition could affect our lives. The story quotes Alvaro Bedoya who started a privacy centre,

“When we interact with people on the street, there’s a certain level of respect accorded to strangers,” Bedoya told me. “That’s partly because we don’t know if people are powerful or influential or we could get in trouble for treating them poorly. I don’t know what happens in a world where you see someone in the street and immediately know where they work, where they went to school, if they have a criminal record, what their credit score is. I don’t know how society changes, but I don’t think it changes for the better.”

It is interesting to think about how face recognition and other technologies may change how we deal with strangers. Too much knowledge could be alienating.

The story closes by describing how Clearview AI helped identify some of the Capitol rioters. Of course it wasn’t just Clearview, but also a citizen investigators who named and shamed people based on photos released.

260,000 Words, Full of Self-Praise, From Trump on the Virus

The New York Times has a nice content analysis study of Trump’s Coronavirus briefings, 260,000 Words, Full of Self-Praise, From Trump on the Virus. They tagged the corpus for different types of utterances including:

  • Self-congratulations
  • Exaggerations and falsehoods
  • Displays of empathy or appeals to national unity
  • Blaming others
  • Credits others

Needless to say they found he spent a fair amount of time congratulating himself.

They then created a neat visualizations with colour coded sections showing where he shows empathy or congratulates himself.

According to the article they looked at 42 briefings or other remarks from March 9 to April 17, 2020 giving them a total of 260,000 words.

I decided to replicate their study with Voyant and I gathered 29 Coronavirus Task Force Briefings (and one Press Conference) from February 29 to April 17. These are all the Task Force Briefings I could find at the White House web site. The corpus has 418,775 words, but those include remarks by people other than Trump, questions, and metadata.

Some of the things that struck me are the absence of medical terminology in the high frequency words. I was also intrigued by the prominence of “going to”. Trump spends a fair amount of time talking about what he and others are going to be doing rather than what is done. Here you have a Contexts panel from Voyant.

Welcome to Dialogica: Thinking-Through Voyant!

Do you need online teaching ideas and materials? Dialogica was supposed to be a text book, but instead we are adapting it for use in online learning and self-study. It is shared here under a CC BY 4.0 license so you can adapt as needed.

Stéfan Sinclair and I have put up a web site with tutorial materials for learning Voyant. See Thinking-Through Voyant!.

Dialogica ( plays with the idea of learning through a dialogue. A dialogue with the text; a dialogue mediated by the tool; and a dialogue with instructors like us.

Dialogica is made up of a set of tutorials that students should be able to alone or with minimal support. These are Word documents that you (instructors) can edit to suit your teaching and we are adding to them. We have added a gloss of teaching notes. Later we plan to add Spyral notebooks that go into greater detail on technical subjects, including how to program in Spyral.

Dialogica is made available with a CC BY 4.0 license so you can do what you want with it as long as you give us some sort of credit.

Show and Tell at CHRIN

Stéphane Pouyllau’s photo of me presenting

Michael Sinatra invited me to a “show and tell” workshop at the new Université de Montréal campus where they have a long data wall. Sinatra is the Director of CRIHN (Centre de recherche interuniversitaire sur les humanitiés numériques) and kindly invited me to show what I am doing with Stéfan Sinclair and to see what others at CRIHN and in France are doing.

Continue reading Show and Tell at CHRIN