If AI can create the images, videos, and content you need then why do you, or Shutterstock, need human artists and photographers? Clue… you don’t, and that’s freaking people out.


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As I’ve presented on and written on many times over the past bunch of years Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been getting better and better at creating synthetic content – everything from books and podcasts to images and videos – and now jumping on that trend photo licensing service Shutterstock has said it will begin selling images generated by AI alongside those created by humans. The AI images will be powered exclusively by OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 software. Both companies say that human creators whose work inspired the AI will be compensated, but one artist describes the move as “sewer water leak into the drinking supply.”


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Shutterstock was one of several photo agencies that began removing AI-generated art from their archives last month. A Shutterstock spokesperson told CNN that the company would continue to ban people generally from uploading AI-generated art to its platform, but that its collaboration with OpenAI was an attempt to embrace new technology in an ethical way. The two companies will also launch what the Shuttershock spokesperson called the Shutterstock Contributor Fund to “compensate artists for their contributions” and provide royalties when their intellectual property (IP) is used. However, how this will work when AI made art starts swamping their system remains unclear.


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“When the work of many contributed to the creation of a single piece of AI-generated content, we want to ensure that the many are protected and compensated (instead of allowing an individual to generate and take full credit for that content),” they said.

OpenAI didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the Shutterstock spokesperson said that a deal had been struck in which the AI that produces the pictures has been trained only on images from Shutterstock’s archives, rather than on content found elsewhere online.


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Contributors whose work was used to train the models will receive a share of royalties from AI sales, said the Shutterstock spokesperson, but they didn’t say what percentage of revenue would go to contributors or how the contributions would be divided. It is often difficult to determine what input data was referenced to create any one piece of output.

Adrian Alexander Medina, editor of literary website and magazine Aphotic Realm and a creator of book covers, says he has lost three potential clients to AI-generated art since the start of October. He disagrees with Shutterstock selling AI-generated art and believes it risks ostracising photographers and illustrators.

“I work a lot with photo manipulation art. I pay fees for licensing and use completely royalty-free images. If websites like Shutterstock and others that offer licensed assets for graphic design use start allowing AI into their libraries, it’ll be akin to having sewer water leak into the drinking supply,” he says.

He is also sceptical of the company’s scheme to disperse revenue to artists from AI image sales.


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“I think it’s a feeble attempt to justify the stealing of millions if not billions of IPs that make up AI generated art,” he says. But, despite his and others doubts and protestations, the only thing that’s clear is that Shutterstock, as well as other stock image sites who have already embraced AI-generated images, will continue to expand their offerings.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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