AI is coming, and "intelligence" has robbed the "artificial" job?

  Screenshot of AI paintings displayed by Midjourney official website.

  Screenshot of AI paintings displayed by Stable Diffusion official website.

  Screenshot of the result of searching "Thomas Kinkade" in this database. These image data are used to train Stable Diffusion.


  Fear is sudden. In the past year, He Ran, a freelance illustrator, watched the progress of AI again and again, and the speed surprised her. Judging from the works drawn by AI, it has basically reached the level of an intermediate professional designer or illustrator. She studied painting for seven years at school, and worked as an illustrator for five years after graduation, which is only intermediate.

  "If there are companies with art needs and employees who can operate AI (painting), 90% of the artists can be laid off." He Ran said, "At first, we all thought that it would replace the bottom labor force first, to liberate physical (labor) things." Zheng Chujia, the founder of a design company in Shenzhen, told reporters that the emergence of AI painting tools prompted his company to optimize 20% of its employees. "As long as we can use it, it can basically replace most of our painters."

  Originally, many people thought that the art field was difficult to be eroded by AI, but it was one of the earliest areas that suffered from AI impact.

  It once painted a cat in 2012. A picture that seems to be full of mosaics can only vaguely see the outline of the cat’s eyes, nose, ears and face. By the beginning of 2021, the DALL-E1 model released by OpenAI company imitated Monet’s style to draw a fox, and the fox’s head could barely be recognized in a grass.

  In 2022, the AI painting models DALL-E2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion came out one after another. Ordinary people who don’t master painting skills can also input keywords and direct their creation. This is considered "revolutionary". That year, it was called "AIGC (Generative Artificial Intelligence — — Reporter’s note) The first year ".

  Jason Allen, an American game designer, was invited to participate in the use test of Midjourney that summer, and then he became fascinated by it. "I can’t believe what I saw," he said in an interview with The New York Times. "I think it was inspired by the devil, as if some extraordinary force was involved."

  In August, with the help of the oil painting "Space Opera House" created by Midjourney, he won the gold medal of "Digital Art" in the art competition of Colorado Expo. This caused an uproar in the industry, but the work was created after more than 900 iterations. At that time, ChatGPT had not yet come out, and AI had emerged in the painting world.

  It was only during that time that AI painting was still a little immature. Through the paintings drawn by it, many characters have blurred faces and can’t find their eyes, and some have six or seven fingers on their hands; Let it draw girls to eat noodles, it draws girls to grab noodles and stuff them in their mouths, and chopsticks are gone; The "fallen pedestrian" was twisted into an incredible posture by it, and his arm was also dropped.

  Last year, He Ran also tried to use those AI painting tools. Although it was able to draw beautiful works at that time, for people in the industry, "the business demand of what (it) made was very low" and "it didn’t help much at work".

  Some painters even think that it is not intelligent, but somewhat retarded and ridiculous. It is ironic that it is a tailor and a brainless tool, and that its works are soulless, illogical, patchwork and not real art.

  "What you draw is just like a monster." Zheng Chujia said that his first attempt at AI painting had a poor experience. Most of the time, he could only "pick the tall among the short". At that time, company designers only used it to find inspiration, not directly used to generate works.

  In December, 2022, a painter who has been in business for more than 10 years also told the media that AI painting is not perfect and has not yet posed an obvious threat to practitioners. Soon, however, some painters became nervous — — The evolving AI began to smash their jobs.

  Zheng Chujia noticed that in January this year, many AI painting tutorials appeared abroad. He tried to let designers learn them and found them more and more useful. He remembers that a plane model of a game character was made with AI at that time, and it was completed in an hour or two. "If it is us, it may take more than a week or even half a month to finish."

  He began to feel a little scared, and a group of people in the whole industry might face unemployment.

  In January, He Ran, a freelance illustrator, learned that an Internet company had run through AI mapping. "The new works produced by AI only need to be modified a little manually." By February, the commercialization of AI painting had impacted her livelihood.

  She has a project, which is to outsource a certain game. She needs to design 60 startup pages of games in different cities for Party A, and originally planned to make one page a week. A week later, the second picture was only halfway drawn. Party A gave feedback that "the company ran through AI", and she only needed to do fine-tuning on the picture generated by AI, but the cost plummeted, from two to three thousand yuan to three or five hundred yuan.

  He Ran found that there were still mistakes in the drawings generated by AI at that time. Sometimes the bridges and towers it drew had problems such as structure and perspective, and sometimes something was strangely produced somewhere that was not needed. She needed to spend a lot of energy to revise them repeatedly.

  "It should be Midjourney4.0 in February, and now it has been upgraded to 5.0." He Ran told reporters, "There are very few things that should be repaired in 5.0. It has evolved again. "

  This time, the problem that painters often joke about "AI can’t draw hands" has been solved. The animals it draws are fine, and the portraits it draws are almost the same as those taken in photos, which is enough to confuse the real with the fake. A picture of "China Couples" generated by Midjourney5.0 caused a heated discussion. Many netizens thought it was a real photo, not an AI drawing.

  In Guangzhou, a game outsourcing company began to lay off employees in January, and so far it has laid off more than 20 original painters in four batches.

  "The original painters eliminated by our company are basically junior and intermediate, and the senior original painters are basically left behind." Chen Hua, the company’s special effects technical director, told the reporter of Zhongqing Daily and, "To be honest, it’s a bit cruel."

  Originally, the most time-consuming step in creating a painting is the process that the original painter conceived and created the first draft. Chen Hua said that after using AI, the work efficiency of the original painter has been greatly improved. Nowadays, judging from the AI painting tools purchased by the company, it only needs to input instructions, and it can generate 40 to 60 schemes for painters to choose from, and the painter’s main job is to screen and modify the works.

  "The work of revision requires senior original painters, and the primary and intermediate original painters will be weaker in revision." Chen Hua said, "They (the laid-off people) will want the reason that (the market) demand is not enough, and his ability is not enough. AI can really replace his job."

  In the latest recruitment of this company, more positions are reserved for special effects artists who have not been impacted by AI, and only a small number of senior original painters are recruited. In the past few months, this company has only recruited two senior original painters. These two original painters used to work in a big factory. As for the reason for being laid off, one of them didn’t want to mention it, and the other said that it was squeezed out after the project used AI.

  "It (AI) is a factor of acceleration, which accelerates our structural optimization." Zheng Chujia told reporters that the company once optimized the staff last year, reducing the number of team designers from more than 100 to more than 50. This year, the company’s design team has optimized 20%, and he plans to continue to optimize 40% in the future.

  He is aware of the anxiety that designers in the company may be optimized. "We can only actively embrace this technology and make ourselves as valuable as possible to the whole company. If this person’s thinking is too conservative, it is easy to be optimized. "


  In foreign countries, unemployment related to AI has also appeared. In June, the report data of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an American company that provides re-employment services for retirees, showed that AI caused 3,900 people to lose their jobs in the United States in May, accounting for about 5% of the total number of layoffs in May.

  AI has made some people unemployed, but it has also created some new jobs. On the recruitment website, there are new positions such as AI retoucher, AI draftsman, AI original painter and AI illustrator. However, at present, there is no data to show whether AI has caused more unemployment or created more jobs.

  Many illustrators around He Ran are unwilling to retouch AI. In her view, compared with the original painting, the compensation for AI retouching is only one-fifth of the original in the same time, and there is no sense of accomplishment. Before, she finished painting a work, although the price was not high, but the work was her own. "But like this (AI painting), you can’t get it at all, saying it’s your work."

  During this time, she often felt confused and confused, and once she didn’t know what to do in the future. The demand for outsourcing is decreasing, even the demand for posters by e-commerce companies is decreasing, the overall business volume has decreased by 50%, the unit price of orders has been lowered by the market, and the overall income has nearly halved.

  More than 70% of her income originally came from the game outsourcing business, but now she is forced to transform and operate new business on the Internet, trying to find more personal design needs of smaller people.

  In the past two months, she felt a little stressed, and her monthly income dropped from 20,000 to 30,000 yuan to about 10,000 yuan. "For the time being, it has little impact (on daily life) because there is still some savings, but it will definitely not work in the long run." He Ran said, "Based on reality, houses, water and electricity, eating and drinking Lazar, and raising kittens are all money."

  One of her friends is a 3-D animator, which has not been affected by AI. Recently, there has been a surge in single volume. "He said, why don’t I study 3D? He gave me his list, but I don’t really want to. I know that thing makes money, but I don’t want to do it. "

  "People who have been painting for several years actually do it because they like it." She said, "If you don’t make money like this now, it’s useless to like it again." She is not sure whether she wants to continue to develop in the industry. "It’s especially sad that people like us who have been abandoned by the industry are stuck in the middle and can’t get on."

  Unlike painters, those companies of Party A and outsourcing companies are not confused about AI.

  As the person in charge of a company, Zheng Chujia thinks very realistically. His first thought is how to deal with the impact. "If your company does not actively embrace AI, the overall development may be affected, or it will soon be eliminated by peers." Zheng Chujia said.

  Soon, he established the "AI Exploration Alliance" within the company to explore the application mode of AI, and began to explore how to integrate resources and technical tools, introduced the popular AI painting tools Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, and then conducted AI technical training. He compared AI technology to Jenny machine. "Its appearance is a subversive efficiency improvement tool." Introducing AI can improve his production efficiency by 40%-60%.

  Since the company’s main expenditure is manpower expenditure, despite the recent loss of original design customers and the reduction of orders by 30% to 40%, the overall efficiency of the company has increased by 20% to 30% after the layoffs. Nowadays, the company has been equipped with a special AI retoucher. In the future recruitment, he is more interested in people who can embrace new technologies.

  "Now, the commercial use of AI is very common." Chen Hua said that some Internet companies already have teams that specialize in researching and using AI to create. "It can save a lot of money." Now, after Party A’s company started to use AI, the game outsourcing company where Chen Hua works can’t meet the demand of the original painting, but in the past six months, the team AI painting technology and industrial chain have become more mature.

  Although AI has not threatened Chen Hua’s job, he is still scared of the current era. "Technology is progressing a little too fast." He is worried that AI will continue to evolve in the future and "replace other positions in art". By that time, happy artistic creation will become monotonous technical creation.

  He has a friend from the Academy of Fine Arts who doesn’t like AI painting very much and thinks that "it is destroying the ecology of this industry". When they discussed this topic, the other party felt that it was a tool without thinking. In just 10 minutes, it replaced a person’s painting experience for more than 10 years. "Do you think this is reasonable?"

  "I feel unreasonable, too, but what can I do for me?" Chen Hua said, "I can’t act like it too much, and I can’t act like it too much."

  "This kind of thing is the company’s demand. In fact, it has little to do with its own wishes. The company still focuses on economic benefits." Chen Hua told reporters, "After all, you are a migrant worker. Even if there is a contradiction (in my heart), there is no way. "


  After AI hit the painting world, it was popular and resisted almost at the same time.

  Some painters claim on the internet that AI painting is based on the feeding training of a large number of picture data, which may contain copyrighted pictures, but they did not get the corresponding copyright when training AI models. This training method was satirized by painters as "an alchemist without copyright" and was openly opposed by many painters.

  "It’s equivalent to embezzlement. He uses our paintings to produce (commercial) value, but he won’t tell you or let you authorize it, and there is no profit sharing." He Ran said, "We get paid by copyright." This situation has also caused great controversy abroad, which is usually considered to involve moral and legal issues.

  In order to find out which pictures are used to train AI painting models, Andy Baio, an American technical expert, and Simon Willison, his friend as an AI researcher, have captured more than 12 million image data used to train Stable Diffusion.

  After indexing these data, they found that about 47% of the pictures came from 100 domains, including more than 1 million pictures from Pinterest, a photo sharing website. Other image data sources include WordPress, Flickr, 500px, Getty Images and Fine Art America.

  There are also many artists’ works in the database. Of the top 25 artists, only three are still alive, among which the artist with the highest frequency is Thomas Kinkade, an American painter, whose 9,268 images are in the data set, but he died in 2012.

  Someone found five of his paintings in the database and asked Andy Beo if there was any way to get them deleted. Andy Beo said: "As far as I know, there is no way to delete images from training data or make models forget what they have learned."

  Andy Beo himself is also very ambivalent about the use of such emerging technologies. "Its ability makes people feel like they can summon magic, but it has caused many moral problems and it is difficult to track them." He said.

  Before the potential moral and legal problems caused by AI copyright disputes have been solved, some art communities and photo agencies began to ban the emergence of AI-generated works. Getty Images has publicly stated that it is forbidden to sell AI works generated by using Stable Diffusion through its services. There are also some organizations that allow AI to generate works, but it is necessary to indicate that the works are generated by AI.

  One day in December 2022, the homepage of the famous art website Art Station was occupied by pictures with the logo of "NO AI". In March of this year, there was also a wave of "boycotting AI" in China. Some painters publicly stated on social platforms that my works are forbidden to be fed to AI.

  Jason Allen said in an interview with The New York Times that he sympathized with artists who were afraid that AI would make them lose their jobs, but their anger should not be directed at individuals who used AI painting tools to create art, but at companies that chose to replace human artists with AI.

  Not long ago, a friend of Zheng Chujia also put on the head of "NO AI", but in his view, the boycott of AI is mainly due to copyright, not the boycott of this technology. "This (technology) is definitely unstoppable."

  He is also worried about the copyright of AI painting, but the copyright he refers to is that when his company explores a new painting style, once it is taken by others to feed AI, "our style will instantly become popular".

  Abroad, Paizo, a veteran game publisher, said in March that they would update the contract to make it mandatory that any submitted works must be created by human beings, and artistic works and words generated by artificial intelligence are not popular in their games.

  The publisher also claimed that "as long as the moral and legal environment surrounding these procedures remains vague, we are unwilling to associate our brand with this technology in any way."

  Chen Hua feels that this is a company with backbone, and it is good for the industry environment to want to contribute to this industry. "But if you want my boss to do this, it will definitely not work." Chen Hua said. He Ran sometimes feels ambivalent. She is very resistant to AI’s "stealing" those image data for training models, but she has to face the reality that her income drops sharply under the impact of AI.

  "History shows that new technologies can bring huge benefits to our economy, but they are not painless for some people and communities. The overall impact will largely depend on social systems and policies. " Hong Pingfan, director of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said when talking about AI.

  Zheng Chujia feels that in the future, the government may need to vigorously support AI-related training and incorporate relevant courses into the student training plan of colleges and universities. He is also worried that after the impact of AI, junior designers will find it difficult to receive orders and projects, and their ability will not be exercised, resulting in the loss of new people in the industry, and there may be a "talent gap" in the next 5-10 years.

  In his view, AI does replace a lot of manpower, but we can’t ignore the cultivation of people’s basic ability and creativity. "Otherwise, when it is made, he can’t judge (good or bad), which is also a terrible problem." Chen Hua also felt that in the past six months, company designers have become more and more dependent on AI painting tools. "His personal creativity has indeed declined."

  Recently, He Ran has stopped resisting AI as she did not long ago. She is planning to learn how to use AI to assist her painting.

  "Last month was very resistant because it broke my financial path." He Ran said, "But I realized this month that you can’t resist it. You have to use it as soon as possible."

  (At the request of the interviewee, He Ran and Chen Hua are pseudonyms)

  Zhongqingbao Zhongqingwang reporter Li Qiang Source: China Youth Daily