Photo: Getty
  /  12.09.2022

Word on the internet streets is there’s a lot of controversy surrounding cartoon avatars that people are paying for (YES, PAYING FOR!) to post on their social media. I know all of those cartoon and logo bots are HEATED. The photos aren’t just some filtered, futuristic creations; they’re artificial intelligence content created by Lensa App. Much like FaceTune, Lensa allows you to contour, edit, and curate your photos for social media. But, their new feature also uses artificial intelligence to create content in different scenarios, outfits and environments.

How does it work? You download the app, and choose a free trial since a subscription costs almost $30. Next, you click the “Magic Avatars” tool, and it will prompt you to upload a set of photos from different angles and with various expressions. After, you will be asked your gender and which avatar package you would like to purchase. They range from $3.99 all the way up to $7.99. Once your package is chosen, the app will curate your cartoon photos and allow you to download them straight to your phone.

What controversy could cartoon characters cause? Before we get into that, let’s double back to break down AI technology. It is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers and the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.” The term was coined by mathematician Alan Turing back in the 1950s.

Since the development of AI, it has expanded into four categories: Reactive machines, limited memory, theory of mind, and self-awareness. Reactive machines are able to react to the world in front of them and perform certain tasks. An example of this is when you play your computer instead of a human opponent in an online game of checkers. It reacts to your moves based on the rules of the game, BUT it doesn’t store memory, so it won’t have any recollection of other players or past games. Next are limited memory machines, which are able to curate predictions based on stored data. One of the most popular ways it’s used is for reinforced learning, so a machine is able to make better predictions with trial and error. Theory of the mind machines don’t exist yet. They’re just a concept surrounding a machine’s ability to understand humans have thoughts and emotions. After those will come self-awareness machines, which will be able to operate on a human-like level through their own existence and understanding.

Historically, AI technology was used by the government to break codes during criminal warfare, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s curated street-mapping projects in the 1970s. Additionally, DARPA created intelligent personal assistants back in 2003. But these days, the average person uses AI technology in their everyday lives — such as voice assistants. Yes, our faves Siri and Alexa are a result of AI tech that leverage data on cloud platforms to provide us answers to our voice commands. They can analyze thousands of data pieces in a second to deliver us a tailored answer to “What is Doja Cat’s real name?” for example.

But it doesn’t stop there, while you are binge-watching “Wednesday” on Netflix, have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, am I using artificial intelligence?” Well, you are! Streaming platforms utilize data — like your watchlist and clicks — to curate a custom feed of shows and movies they think you will like. So, when you share your Netflix account with your true crime stories-crazed cousin, just know that your personal algorithm will be disrupted, and you will have to go back and let the app know what you really want to see. And if you decide to change the password on them, I don’t blame you. Reorganizing your Netflix account is a PAIN.

Another way we use AI on a daily basis is through filters. Snapchat started the filter craze of flower crowns, animal faces, and more back in 2015. Almost every teenager was using Snapchat filters in their content and posting it to other social media platforms. Little did they know, they were utilizing artificial intelligence. Since then, the way we use AI, in regard to content, has expanded way past filters, which brings us back to the original point of those controversial cartoon avatars. Since the technology employs data that has already been published for its creations, the Lensa App is actually using work from artists without their permission. And because the app is pulling from multiple sources, it’s hard to pinpoint whose work is being used for each cartoon character — but many artists, and their fanbases, have noticed their influence within the avatars.

Another issue some have with the app is that people are unknowingly signing over the rights to their faces being used on other websites. The fine print that you agree to before getting your avatars says that you will allow them to use the content on the current app and other sites as they please. Now, this is not illegal because they show the terms and conditions before you agree, BUT many consumers aren’t going to read the small print or understand the language, so some could say it’s predatory.

Lensa isn’t the only AI content app that has been getting a lot of attention. ChatGPT is an open artificial intelligence application that interacts in a conversational manner depending on the questions that are asked. For example, you can ask it to write a blog about social media algorithms, and it will pull information from a ton of sources to curate one for you. Keep in mind, this tool cannot think for itself. It can only utilize the information and data that it has access to, so the more specific you are, the better the results. Another point to keep in mind is that because it is a machine without human context or emotion, the writing may feel a bit stale or robotic compared to a person writing a blog piece with real world examples and compelling language. This is a great tool to help jump start ideas, but it shouldn’t be your end-all, be-all. I DID NOT use the tool to write this article.

So, will AI take over content creation? In my opinion, no. These machines don’t have a brain and can’t come up with concepts on their own. They are limited to the information and data that is already out there. There are tons of trends and concepts that haven’t been thought of or created yet, which means without our imaginations, there is a limit to what the machines can make. I know some creatives find it frustrating, but think of it as another person stealing your creation — they may have the recipe, but they will never have your secret sauce.



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