Using AI to create artwork is something that might raise eyebrows. Using it to create fantasy photos of your spouse is definitely going to lead to some questions.
Andy Weir is best known as the author of The Martian, a 2011 novel that was adapted into a film starring Matt Damon, and since then, he’s written bestselling novels like Artemis and Project Hail Mary. He doesn’t post much on Twitter, but he’s more active on Facebook, where he offers insights into his life and his books.
In a recent post, Weir shared an image of a woman positioned in front of a chandelier. As he explained to his followers, he uploaded an image of his wife Ashley into Midjourney, which describes itself as “an independent research lab exploring new mediums of thought” that focuses on AI (along with design and human infrastructure). He also prompted the technology to create several other iterations, like a character in a manga, a Star Wars Imperial officer, a Star Trek Federation officer, and a medieval queen.
Weir framed the creation of those images as a matter of being “a loophole in Western culture morality” and his marriage to his wife giving him the go-ahead of being “socially allowed to perv on a woman if she’s my wife.”
“Thanks to a loophole in Western culture morality, I am socially allowed to perv on a woman if she’s my wife,” Weir wrote. “So I gave Midjourney a picture of her and said ‘imagine the woman in this picture as a sorceress in a fantasy setting’. This is the result.”
The language Weir used to describe his reason for creating new AI images, which some of his followers took as tongue-in-cheek while others were grossed out by it, is a lot. It also ended up being less of a talking point than the AI itself.
Weir previously used Midjourney to create AI-generated artwork of Jazz, the protagonist of his 2017 novel Artemis. While overall pleased with the result, he noted that his character, who’s Saudi Arabian but not a practicing Muslim, probably wouldn’t be in hijab like the AI art depicted.
When one person called for a boycott of Midjourney and said that Weir shouldn’t steal from artists, Weir pushed back. To him, using AI to generate art of his wife as a sorceress was no different than creating an original novel based on a concept already used in a much different novel written centuries ago, as he compared the similar premise that Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and The Martian shared.
“Boycott me, too, then,” he replied. “Because Daniel Dafoe invented the idea of someone being stranded and having to be clever to survive.”
AI-generated art is something of a touchy subject. It’s creating art based on other images (and Weir doesn’t list which artists or pieces of artwork Midjourney might have been inspired by when creating this image), which many have compared to plagiarism. In some cases, such as the recent controversy over Secret Invasion’s opening credits, fans accused Marvel of costing artists who could’ve created the opening credits jobs. (Methods Studios, which is behind those credits, said after a backlash arose that no artists were replaced by AI.) But many of Weir’s followers were impressed by the art.
A few years ago, in an interview where he was optimistic about what AI could accomplish in a number of fields, Weir touched on the idea that AI could eventually do his job better than he could, noting that he expected it would happen in his lifetime.
“When you come down to it, stories are structures,” he explained in the 2018 interview. “And basically, once an AI has the ability to evaluate the readability of a book, to evaluate how good is a story, then an AI will be able to try out a whole bunch of variations, evaluate them, and say, ‘Here, here’s a story.’ Now, might start off with an AI that says, ‘Here are the plot beats of a story, here are the events that happen. And then it’s up to, it’ll be up to a human to actually write the prose that convey story, but then eventually the computers will get good at that too. I’m just hoping all that happens after I retire.”
And when someone asked him his thoughts on it in 2023 in the comments section of a post featuring AI-generated art of his wife, his thoughts were similar.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before AIs can write better fiction than humans can,” he said in response to a question about the uptick in AI. “I may be part of the last generation of human authors. A bleak thought but at least I slid in under the line and got a bunch of money before it happened.”