Workers are worried about AI taking their jobs. Artists say it's already happening.

  • Fears are growing that AI could replace millions of jobs.

  • Artists say companies are already outsourcing entry-level work to generative AI.

  • They warn that legal and regulatory uncertainty is putting their livelihoods at risk.

Some fear that AI will wreak havoc on the job market.

A report by Goldman Sachs in March predicted as many as 300 million jobs could be disrupted by the new technology, and the tidal wave of AI advances has left many workers worrying that their jobs could soon be replaced by technology.

For some working in art and design this future has alread yarrived.

Artists were among the first to encounter generative AI. Image generators such as Dall-E and Stable Diffusion have also quickly gained traction. As the popularity of these tools grows, some artists say work and opportunities have begun to dry up.

Eva Toorenent has been working as a freelance artist and illustrator since 2019. Late last year, she was shocked to discover that another artist had taken artwork she'd posted on Instagram and used it to "fine tune" the AI model Midjourney to produce AI art in her style. The other artist then sold the artwork to a gallery.

Eva Toorenent
Eva Toorenent has worked as an artist and illustrator since 2019. Eva Toorenent

"It was hurtful," she told Insider. "My work has been stolen before, but this was a new kind of violating feeling that I haven't felt before."

Since then, she has increasingly encountered generative AI in her work, and says that the technology is being used to cut corners and costs, leaving freelance artists to pay the price.

"It's scary to see," she said. "But honestly, it feels inevitable."

Entry-level jobs vanishing

Artists told Insider that it's these freelance and entry-level jobs, particularly in film, TV and gaming, that are increasingly being done by AI.

"I noticed as early as last summer work was starting to dry up a little bit," said Reid Southen, a concept artist and illustrator who mainly works in the film industry. He said the downturn was partly due to the worsening economy, but that AI likely played a role too.

Reid told Insider that he was aware of production companies turning to AI during the "blue sky" period where concept artists are brought on to produce mood boards and flesh out the look of a film.

"AI seems to be taking a big chunk of that work," he said. "Companies can use generative AI to throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and churn out thousands of concepts in an afternoon."

Reid Southen
Reid Southen is a concept artist and illustrator.Reid Southen

Concept artist and professional illustrator Karla Ortiz told Insider she'd been involved in three productions where generative AI had been used at the concept stage.

"I'm a freelancer and so I charge by the hour, and these things were used in a way that 100% lessened my hours working on those projects," she said. "It's being adopted quietly in a lot of different productions. It's alarming."

Eva believes that the shift toward AI-generated concept art is likely to hurt smaller artists at the start of their careers.

"The beginning jobs are moving away," she said. "If game companies use Midjourney to generate concept art and mood boards, it cuts off opportunities for up-and-coming artists to get noticed."

Companies using AI to cut costs

While the debate over AI rages, companies are already including it in layoff announcements and using it as an excuse for downsizing.

IBM has paused hiring in roles that could be replaced by AI, and BT announced plans to replace 10,000 cut jobs with AI earlier this year.

Something similar is happening in the art world. Ben Zhao, a professor of computer science at the University of Chicago, told Insider that the explosion in generative AI has sparked a "race to the bottom" as companies cut expenses and lay off low-level art roles.

"There's a lot of actual replacement going on, but many companies are just using generative AI as a way to argue for downsizing, to try to drive down costs and maximize profits," he said.

Reid worries that the economic outlook and the growing presence of AI have created a "perfect storm" that is pushing many companies to cut jobs.

"I think they're looking at numbers and they're seeing cost saving measures, and they're seeing tools that can aid their businesses without necessarily thinking about the human costs," he said.

Eva Toorenent art
Eva says her artEva Toorenent

The vanishing opportunities are especially galling considering that many of the AI image generators artists are losing work to are trained on artwork scraped from the internet.

After she first encountered generative AI, Eva used the Have I been Trained tool and found that several of her artworks had been used to train AI models.

"It's scary to think that somebody could just take my work without my consent and train an AI on it," she said. "Without our work this technology could not exist. It feels like we are being replaced with our own labor."

Artists fear for the future

Karla Ortiz is one of three artists who have launched a lawsuit against Stability AI and Midjourney over claims the companies violated copyright laws by scraping their work to train AI models.

"I'm hoping it'll set a very clear precedent on what actions are ok, and what actions are not ok when developing these technologies," Ortiz said.

She fears that the uncertainty and concern surrounding generative AI is putting off people from going into careers in the creative industry: "I don't blame them because I'm worried about my job prospects too."

Karla Ortiz
Karla Ortiz is suing Midjourney and Stable Diffusion over their use of her works to train AI models.AMY OSBORNE/Getty Images

Zhao is also concerned about how generative AI may impact the next generation. In collaboration with artists, he and his team developed Glaze, a tool that applies a filter to digital artworks that prevent AI models from using it to "learn" an artist's style and reproduce it when prompted.

Glaze is "designed to buy time" for legal and regulatory systems to draft new rules on how to deal with AI, he said.

Zhao feared for the future of human creativity: "It's a really dark thing to contemplate."

Midjourney and Stable Diffusion did not respond to requests for comment from Insider.

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