I’ve held off talking about this topic for months, but I think I’m doing a disservice by trying to ignore a sticky topic, so I’d like to share some of my thoughts about AI art and its role in Replay’s design/marketing process and toolkit.

I see three intertwined topics that affect us as a team:

  1. How to handle disagreement

  2. Is AI art ethical?

  3. How can we align on a direction about AI art?

  4. How to handle disagreement

I love agreeing with people, and I don’t like disagreeing. Because I know a lot of people at Replay disagree with using AI art, I haven’t wanted to talk about it. But I think our ideal should be “disagreeing without being disagreeable.” Not only is it ok to disagree, it’s good! It shows we’re able to wrestle with things to try and find the best solution. Which is why I’m finally writing this.

  1. Is AI art ethical?

“AI art” is too broad of a term to have a single answer. Some AI art is only trained on publicly available data, such as Adobe Firefly. On the other hand, it’s possible to directly steal an artist’s whole look and feel without permission, as happened here. I believe the first is perfectly ethical and something I do, whereas the second is deeply unethical and I would never support it. In my view, the answer to this question is “it depends,” as it is for many complex issues.

2b. Free icons, illustrations, and images are the industry standard, not human illustrators

I’ve worked in tech as a professional developer or designer for 23 years, over thousands of features and products, and I can remember using a human illustrator only twice. The other 99.9%+ of the time, industry designers use stock photo websites, free icon sets, google images, and so forth. (Even at Microsoft, which shocked me at first. They don’t have their own library!)

So when I use AI art, my conscience is clear because I am 100% positive I was never going to pay an illustrator for that work. AI art is primarily stealing attention from royalty-free asset libraries, not hard-working human illustrators.

(On the other hand, I’ve spent thousands of dollars commissioning illustrators for personal projects in the last few years. Human artists are great for side projects, but they’ve been too expensive for professional software work as long as I’ve been in the industry. I have also worked as a freelance illustrator, so I’ve been on both sides of this scenario.)