AI misunderstanding causes outrage on Reddit

Painting of woman in toga staring dramatically into a stormy sky
(Image credit: Ben Moran)

When AI art generators like Dall-E 2 became a thing, illustrators and artists everywhere worried they were going to put them out of a job. So there's been pushback against them, not least on Reddit, where the subreddit r/Art has a rule against posting "memes, AI, filters, or other low quality work".

But how do you enforce such a rule in practice, when there's no infallible way to distinguish what's been created by software like Dall-E 2 and what's been created by people? Well, it seems that moderators are basically going on gut feeling... and that's led a working illustrator to be banned for his all-too-human artwork.

Vietnamese concept artist Minh Anh Nguyen Hoang, who works under the name Ben Moran, has been banned from r/Art for posting A muse in Warzone. Created in Photoshop, it's fantastic work, but clearly someone thought it was too good... because a moderator flagged it up for being AI-generated.

This painting was removed by r/Art moderators for violating Rule 6: 'no memes, AI, filters, or other low quality work' (Image credit: Ben Moran)

Moran got in touch to politely explain they had it wrong, and offered to share the PSD file to prove he'd created the art himself. But, according to screengrabs he later shared on Twitter, he was met with defiance. 'I don't believe you,' the response reads. 'Even if you did "paint" it yourself, it's so obviously an AI-prompted design that it doesn't matter. If you really are a "serious" artist, then you need to find a different style.'

For context, Moran is the lead artist at Kart Studio, and the art in question was an near-completed piece commissioned for a book cover by fantasy author Selkie Myth. Moran currently remains suspended from r/Art, and artists have rallied to his cause across social media and Reddit itself, such as this protest piece by user gr1imly... who's also been banned as a result.

Cartoon of person holding up protest poster

(Image credit: gr1mly)

Community meltdown

So there are a few things to unpack here. Firstly, a subreddit that has 22 million members should probably a bit more careful about banning people without making a few cursory checks (such as whether the contributor is a working professional artist). Secondly, when disputes arise, they should be dealt with in an adult manner and not, as the evidence suggests, at the level of playground name-calling. 

Thirdly, people should not rush to judgement and scream 'AI' when there are clear tell-tale signs that it's not. For instance, art generators like Dall-E 2 are notoriously bad at painting fingers, but the woman's fingers in A muse in Warzone can't be faulted.

Perhaps more importantly, though, this spat speaks to a bigger truth. That as AI art generation increases in sophistication, it's going to become more and more difficult to distinguish it from human efforts. 

The moderators of r/Art implicitly recognise this in their group rules when they say: "be prepared to refute accusations your art is AI-generated. Don't make a fuss, just link to indisputable proof. Also, have an established portfolio somewhere online so people are less likely to suspect your 'amazing' art is an AI-generated one-off."

Gut isn't enough

Photoshop screen menu showing Content Credentials being selected in menu

Content Credentials in Photoshop can help you prove you created an illustration (Image credit: Adobe)

For the record, we found Moran's DeviantArt portfolio and ArtStation portfolio in seconds, but that's not really the point. If art-sharing online communities are going to avoid meltdowns like this in future, we'd suggest that solely relying on people's gut instinct about what's "obviously" AI-generated is not the best way to manage things.

After all, AI art generators only work because they machine-learned from the greatest human artists in history. So saying that someone's art looks AI generated is, in one sense, is the best compliment you can give.

That, of course, doesn't pay the bills. As Moran says: "Why would we study art if we can't make money to live? I'm not here for a fight, just here to protect myself and the future of art."

Anyone who fears the provenance of their work being questioned might want to investigate a new Photoshop opt-in feature called Content Credentials. Currently in beta, this developing feature allows you to attach attribution and history data in your image. In other words, if anyone needs proof that you originated an image, and exactly how you edited it, they can do so directly within Photoshop.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.