Use our simulator to learn how AI generates images from “noise.”
The Washington Post has a nice explainer on how text to image generators work: How AI image generators work, like DALL-E, Lensa and stable diffusion. They let you play with the generator, though you have to stick with the predefined phrases. What I hadn’t realized was the role of static noise in the diffusion model. Not sure how it works, but it seems to train the AI to recognize and then generate in noisy images.
Whatever the literary strengths of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the book has done much to harm both the mentally ill and their communities.
This May the Kule Institute is organizing a hybrid exhibit/symposium on the Institution of Knowledge. We are bringing together a group of artists and thinkers to raise and address questions about institutional structures and knowledge. One question that the small group I’m part of discussed this week as the question of deinstitutionalization and the view, best captured by Ken Kesey in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest that asylums as institutions were sites that did more harm than good. Stephen Eide has a nice article about this, Ken Kesey and the Rush to Deinstitutionalization (Quilette, Nov. 14, 2022).
There are a number of aspects to the issue. The first thing to note is that the deinstitutionalization of people with serious mental health issues didn’t work as imagined. It was not the freeing of an oppressed constituency back to the community where the new drugs could help them integrate and get on with their lives. There wasn’t really a community that wanted them other than the street and many ended up in the very institutions asylums were meant to replace – prisons. Stephen Eide’s book Homelessness in America traces the effects of deinstitutionalization, changes in vagrancy laws, and the “cleaning” up of slums on homelessness leading to the problem as we see it today.
But what about the idea of deinstitutionalization? Important to this idea would be Foucault, changes in psychiatry and how the discipline conceives of the role of medicine (and its institutions), and changes in public policy and what jurisdictions try to do with institutions.
One aspect of the issues that we forget if we think of institutions as bureaucracy is the built presence of institutions. From Jefferson’s design of the campus of the University of Virginia to Olmstead’s asylum landscapes, architects have shaped our imagination and the literal structures of certain types of institutions. This raises the question of what new types of institutions might be in being designed?
From a paper on postcolonial computing I learned about the Unitron Mac 512: A Contraband Mac 512K from Brazil. For a while Brazil didn’t allow the importation of computers (so as to kickstart their own computer industry.) Unitron decided to reverse engineer the Mac 512K, but Apple put pressure on Brazil and the project was closed down. At least 500 machines were built and I guess some are still in circulation.
Though Apple had no intellectual property protection for the Macintosh in Brazil, the American corporation was able to pressure government and other economic actors within Brazil to reframe Unitron’s activities, once seen as nationalist and anti-colonial, as immoral piracy.
Last week I created a character on Character.AI, a new artificial tool created by some ex-Google engineers who worked on LaMDA, the language model from Google that I blogged about before.
Character.AI, which is now down for maintenance due to all the users, lets you quickly create a character and then enter into dialogue with it. It actually works quite well. I created “The Ethics Professor” and then wrote a script of questions that I used to engage the AI character. The dialogue is below.
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.