(photo by @skoilah on Instagram)

Recently, you might have noticed vibrant graphic novel-like portraits of your friends shared on Instagram and Facebook. 

At first glance, they look professionally designed by an illustrator. 

Well, you’ll be surprised to know these popular portraits are actually created by AI software. 

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Launched in 2018, Lensa AI, a brainchild of Prisma Labs, has now gone viral for its new feature called “magic avatars,” offering creative portraits for cheap.

Using a new and experimental software called Stable Diffusion, the program produces funky images by scraping the internet for related photos and designs based on a text description submitted by the user.

Those that sign up for Lensa AI, are asked to upload between 10 to 20 selfies. After paying a small service fee of $8.99, users receive 50 unique avatars at a fraction of the cost an illustrator would charge.

With Lensa now at the top of the charts in the app store, the service has recently faced public criticism from illustrators and content creators accusing stable diffusion of using their art without legal consent.

The rise in popularity of the app’s services is an exchange local illustrators in Victoria say devalue the worth of artists that rely on illustration as a career.

“The reason why people are jumping on this trend is because it’s simple and you get your results quickly. Only artists know that real art takes time and passion. In the future, I fear that I would have to depend on AI because that’s what the customers would want,” says Victoria-based Illustrator, Bernice Steven.

In a Twitter thread posted by Prisma Labs on December 6th, the tech company defended its service by addressing concerns about AI replacing art by actual artists.

“As cinema didn’t kill theatre and accounting software hasn’t eradicated the profession, AI won’t replace artists but can become a great assisting tool,” the company tweeted

Media Editor, Danzie McOrmond says while she wants to believe Lensai AI has good intentions. The influence of Prisma Labs’ popular release risks greatly affecting an industry already fighting to establish its worth.

“I’m definitely an optimist but I think it’s a little bit naive, and I think they’re coming from a place where they’re programmers, not artists. They’re not really understanding the impact it’s gonna have on a lot of people in the short term. Especially smaller, less established artists who are trying to get going.”

To combat privacy and copyright violations, a group of artists have taken it into their own hands by releasing a website that allows artists to find out if their work has been used to train AI.

While Lensai AI continues to grow in popularity for its fun and easy-to-use design features, there are additional concerns regarding the service which is currently unregulated and unchecked. 

“I think that where the problem comes from is that at its worst, it can be used to create things like revenge porn or deep fakes, and it’s all kind of at the hands of the user. History has shown us that if something can be used maliciously, it absolutely will,” says McOrmond. 

In an age where content is constantly being shared, art-based industries such as illustration continue to evolve and face exploitation. McOrmond says the best solution is to support local illustrators, designers and photographers instead of third-party apps.

“Artists are putting a lot of time and effort into their craft and are understandably worried about losing their livelihoods. If you have artist friends that you are worried about, I think one of the best things you can do is support their work,” says McOrmond.

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