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Editorial cartoons and AI

By News feed Pubilshed 04/02/2023

Illustrators around the world are concerned about the impact Artificial Intelligence might have on their profession. How do political cartoonists feel about AI?

 

002_0Cartoon by Keyvan Varesi

 

Much has been written about AI in recent weeks. After ChatGPT, which can whip up written text in the blink of an eye, the focus has now shifted to image-generating AI such a Dall-E and Midjourney. Illustrators are in an uproar, both because they feel their livelihood is threatened and because the AI programs are using the work of millions of illustrators to learn how to produce compelling visuals. Many illustrators feel this is a clear violation of their copyright.

While all this has been going on, political cartoonists have stayed remarkably quiet on the subject. We wanted to find out why that is, so we sent a short survey (created by Emanuele Del Rosso) to our cartoonist community earlier this week, asking them how they feel about AI.

Cartoonists aren't that worried about AI

Over 50 of them took the time to fill out the survey. From their responses we might learn something about how editorial cartoonists think about AI in general. We first asked them how much they knew about what AI can do in relation to art, on a scale of 1 to 5. A minority of 14% confessed to know little or nothing about AI, while most cartoonists ranked themselves 3 or higher on the AI knowledge scale.

Next we asked them if they ever had used AI generated visuals for their own work. 92,6% had not. The few cartoonists who had mostly used it just to try it out, although one cartoonists used it to create reference material.

After that, we went on the the most important question: do you feel threatened by AI in your profession?

 

'I asked AI to draw a cartoon in the style of Plantu.
It gave me sketches of plants!'

 

In general, political cartoonists are not all that worried. We again used a scale of 1 to 5; no one of the respondents marked the perceived threat higher than 3, with a majority scoring it a 1, stating they weren't worried at all. We also asked them to motivate their answers. One unworried cartoonist commented: 'I asked once to an AI to draw a cartoon in the style of the French cartoonist Plantu. It gave me various sketches of plants! So I'm not worried so far.'

The ones who do see AI as (somewhat of a) threat worry about AI getting better and better and eventually replacing human artists as editors at newspapers and magazines opt for the probably cheaper option of using AI-generated illustrations and cartoons.  As one cartoonist puts it: 'Although artificial intelligence cannot do as effective things as we do, it is at a level that can satisfy the needs of people. For this reason, I think people may prefer to get free or cheaper AI products instead of investing in our work.'

The unstoppable march of technology

There is some division in how cartoonists think about the issue of AI. There is a camp that doesn't see a threat at all, as AI is not -and will never be, in their opinion- capable of creating humor and satire that way that humans can. Opposing this view, other cartoonists believe that technology will continue to improve to the point where AI will be able to create political cartoons that are as good as the ones made by humans. Most cartoonists agree, however, that the march of technology is unstoppable. Some of them express the hope that AI will be regulated, providing some measure of protection for human creators. A few point out that it might become a useful tool in the creation of cartoons.

 

'It’s a development that’s here to stay.
Be creative, work around it, deal with it.
'

 

01-Thinker-OSVAL-CUBACartoon by OSVAL

 

I'm not surprised by the outcome of the survey, which mostly align with my own thoughts about AI, and with my expectations of other cartoonists' perceptions. I think most cartoonists don't feel threatened (yet), because AI is currently not able to produce satire. One could argue that drawing is not our core business; the core of political cartoons is the idea, which we then translate into a visual metaphor.

While illustrators probably have reason to be worried about the ability of computers to generate images on command, I expect there is some way to go before AI is able to match a skill and wit of a good cartoonist. That said, there the possibility that people without drawing skills might use AI to produce their own editorial cartoons, supplanting the need for us political artists. But we've already seen this with memes, which have added to the field of satire, but certainly haven not replaced editorial cartoonists. I suspect this is because creating cartoons requires a rather specific skill-set, one you only get by doing it, a lot.

But perhaps the main, and most cynical, reason most cartoonists do not fear AI is that being a cartoonist isn't much of a business model anyway. Since making money in our little niche of the labor market is already so incredibly hard, how much worse could AI make it?