DALL-E image generation bias, stereotyping, copyright abuse

Published: November 2022

DALL-E is a software programme developed by OpenAI that automatically generates images from natural-language text descriptions (or 'prompts'). Trained on text-image pairs from the Internet, DALL-E claims to create 'realistic imagery and art', in multiple styles and compositions.

First revealed in January 2021, DALL-E uses a modified version of large language model GTP-3 to generate images. DALLE-2, which generates more diverse, higher resolution images faster, was released in May 2022.

Critical response

DALL-E has been praised by researchers and commentators for for the ease with which it makes it possible to create highly realistic, if surprising and weird, images and artwork at high speed.

Others, however, have pointed out the software's technical limitations, and ethical and legal risks, including:

  • Accuracy: DALLE's ability to produce illogical and incomprehensible content, especially when presented with longer prompts.

  • Bias: DALL-E exhibits and reinforces biases, including gender, racial and cultural stereotyping.

  • Copyright: DALL-E produces content that copies existing artwork, and is reckoned to abuse copyright and trademarks.

  • Employment: DALL-E's will kill the careers of artists, graphic designers, animators, anime cartoonists, food photographers and others.

  • Environment: Generative models like DALL-E typically consume huge amounts of energy.

  • Mis/disinformation: Having stopped users uploading and editing human facial images in order to minimise the generation of deepfakes, OpenAI'S decision to reintroduce this ability has fueled concerns that it is much easier to use DALL-E to generate and spread mis and disinformation. UC Berkeley researcher Henry Farid reckons DALL-E 'could be disinformation on steroids'.

  • Privacy: OpenAI is trained on photographs and other images images publicly available on the internet without consent. Furthermore, the company's decision to reintroduce the ability to upload third-party faces is seen to potentially damage the privacy of people whose consent may not have been obtained.

  • Safety: DALL-E can produce offensive or explicit content, as well as content that can be construed as harrassment or bullying.

These limitations and risks broadly reflect those published by OpenAI upon DALL-E's launch and DALLE-2 upgrade.

Transparency

DALL-E is an algorithmic black box; some commentators complain that OpenAI's refusal to let third parties assess its algorithm makes it difficult to understand how it works, and how its risks can be managed.

Given the variety and nature of the risks of DALL-E, and its potential negative impacts, OpenAI's decision to restrict user access to DALL-E has mostly been welcomed, even if some users complain that Stable Diffusion and other similar image generation tools are open to everyone and can be used with few, if any, restrictions.

In July 2022, OpenAI announced DALL-E 2 would be made available to up to one million users as part of a large-scale beta test. An API for the system was released in November 2022.

Operator: OpenAI; Microsoft
Developer:
OpenAI
Country:
USA
Sector: Technology
Purpose:
Generate images
Technology:
NLP/text analysis; Computer vision; Text-to-image; Deep learning
Issue:
Accuracy/reliability; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity, gender; Copyright; Employment - jobs; Environment; Mis/disinformation; Safety
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Marketing

System reference

Research, audits, investigations, inquiries, litigation

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