[Image: Bloomsbury Publishing]

AI-generated images on book covers: a cheap, dishonest art

Books are being polluted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) more rapidly and pervasively than we realise. There have been several cases of AI programmes affecting books in recent months.

For example, AI-written books have flooded Amazon’s website, and various news outlets have expressed concerns about the inaccuracies of AI language translation systems. However, in recent weeks, the topic of book covers has highlighted how AI image-generating software is endangering the job security of artists and illustrators worldwide. AI algorithms sample thousands of images on the Internet and use the patterns and traits of these samples to produce a “new” artwork.

Last month, Bloomsbury came under fire for incorporating an AI-generated image, licensed from Adobe, on the cover of Sarah J Maas’s latest novel, House of Earth and Blood. Bloomsbury claims that this was accidental; in The Guardian, the publishing house states that their in-house design team “incorporated an image from a photo library that we were unaware was AI when we licensed it.” Clearly, such an error would be too costly to amend, given that thousands of copies were likely already printed and ready to stock bookshelves across the country.

It is extremely disappointing to see a top publishing house like Bloomsbury using AI-generated images on a novel, especially on one by a New York Times bestseller author. If Bloomsbury can get away with using AI like this, it sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the efforts and rules that various other literary publications and competitions have created to prevent AI from calling their integrity into question.

Books, including their carefully designed covers, should be artistic expressions of human experiences, like all art. How could a machine ever replicate that? 

The disingenuous nature of AI images threatens the very soul of literature. Books, including their carefully designed covers, should be artistic expressions of human experiences, like all art. How could a machine ever replicate that?

Incidents like this have, unsurprisingly, incited anger from many illustrators. In an article focused on the topic of AI-generated art, the illustrator Rob Biddulph states that AI is the “exact opposite” of what art is: “simply pressing a button to generate an image is not a creative process.” But in the highly digitalised, fast-paced environment of a publishing house in 2023, it’s easy to see why design teams are failing to check or notice whether the art they’re using was actually made by a human.

Artificial intelligence is seeping into every aspect of our lives. You might, for instance, be reading this with a smart speaker in the room. AI voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are quite literally becoming household names, commanded from across the room like parents calling their children downstairs to dinner. It is little wonder that individuals have grown comfortable with using similar software to make art.

Comfort breeds complacency. We have grown so at ease with AI that it is now apparently acceptable to replace art created by human passion with pieces made by unfeeling algorithms. AI production involves scanning and sampling millions of preexisting pieces before it can churn out its own artwork.

There is no act of creation, simply emulation and, frankly, theft from original artists. Software like DALL-E2 can turn anything you type out into art, right down to the aesthetic style of the piece. Software like this was likely what created the infamous wolf that Bloomsbury used.

Thousands of trained artists are now losing their flow of income to AI systems

Moreover, as seen in China’s video game art industry, increasing numbers of companies are turning to high-quality AI-made art, and firing illustrators no longer required for their artistic skills. Thousands of trained artists are now losing their flow of income to AI systems. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the economic impacts that AI will have on creative careers.

A lot of stock image websites do not allow AI-generated images for copyright reasons, but Adobe is not among them. As Jess Weatherbed says in an article for The Verge, though the software company does lay out some terms and conditions for the use of AI on the platform, “the field of AI copyright is muddy, untested territory, and Adobe’s rules don’t clearly address all the issues it raises.”

It’s terrifying to think that AI is affecting book covers in this way, taking away important commission opportunities from promising young artists. If Bloomsbury and other big publishers are to preserve their integrity, they should use their powerful positions to draw attention to the unethical practice of AI-generated images. Design teams should carefully check the origins of images they are licensing, or specifically commission illustrators to create their book cover designs, and request that they do not use AI software. Only humans make real art- and no company should publish books with covers that suggest otherwise.


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