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AI-generated imagery is the new clip art as Microsoft adds DALL-E to its Office suite

AI-generated imagery is the new clip art as Microsoft adds DALL-E to its Office suite


AI-generated art is coming to a PowerPoint presentation near you

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A screenshot showing a textbox with the prompt “Try AI-generate images” and the entry “Cake with berries, bread and pastries for the fall.”
Microsoft Designer will let users type text prompts to generate new images.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is adding AI-generated art to its suite of Office software with a new app named Microsoft Designer.

The app functions the same way as AI text-to-image models like DALL-E and Stable Diffusion, letting users type prompts to “instantly generate a variety of designs with minimal effort.” Microsoft says Designer can be used to create everything from greeting cards and social media posts to illustrations for PowerPoint presentations and logos for businesses.

Essentially, AI-generated imagery looks set to become the new clip art.

Microsoft is rolling out this software slowly and carefully

The app isn’t ready for a full launch though, and Microsoft is only offering a limited web preview. “We’re inviting people to try it out, give us feedback, and help us make it great,” writes Microsoft vice president Liat Ben-Zur in a blog post. Once it’s ready, Designer will be available as both a free standalone app and a more feature-filled version that will be available to paying Microsoft 365 subscribers.

In addition to launching Designer, Microsoft is also adding an AI text-to-image model to its search engine Bing. Details on how this feature will work are slim, but Microsoft says the new “Image Creator from Microsoft Bing” will help users “bring [their] ideas to life.” In a blog post, Ben-Zur said, “Simply type in a description of something, any additional context like location or activity, and an art style, and Image Creator will make it for you.”

Both Microsoft Designer and Image Creator are powered by DALL-E 2 — the AI art generator made by OpenAI. Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI in 2019 and has an exclusive license to use its text generator AI GPT-3. It’s not clear if the tech giant has a similar license for using DALL-E.

Will it work, though, is the big unanswered question.

While the quality of AI-generated imagery has certainly improved hugely over the past few years, it’s not clear if the technology is ready for the mainstream. While it’s true that anyone can type a description to generate an image, AI models often need a bit of work to get optimal results. Users have to hone and tweak their text prompts, and it’s possible that Microsoft’s integration of DALL-E may still require too much effort for casual users.

It’s also not clear if AI-generated imagery will be suitable for every use case. In the teaser video above, Microsoft gives the example of a user generating images of a cake for some sort of baking blog. But in that scenario, surely the individual would want to use photos of their actual recipes. Why would they want to use an image of a cake that doesn’t exist?

Taking a broader view, the launch of AI image generators into mainstream products also raises problems involving bias, copyright, and potentially malicious applications.

Microsoft says the Designer app can be used to quickly iterate on design ideas and layouts.
Microsoft says the Designer app can be used to quickly iterate on design ideas and layouts.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft doesn’t say whether its Designer app can generate images of people, for example. The company says OpenAI has filtered “explicit sexual and violent content from the dataset used to train the model” and that it’s also “deployed filters to limit generation of images that violate content policy” and “additional query blocking on sensitive topics.” But, such filters are always permeable, and the tools could still be used to generate troubling imagery — from NSFW creations to offensive or insensitive content.

Microsoft’s new AI image generator is trained on copyrighted art and photography

There are also issues of copyright and ethics. AI art generators like DALL-E are trained on imagery scraped from the web, including the work of designers, artists, and photographers. Many of these individuals feel that corporations like Microsoft and OpenAI are ripping off their work without fair recompense. These multibillion-dollar companies scrape the content of struggling artists to train their models and then turn this data into commercial products without ever paying for their time or effort.

Although from a legal perspective it seems that this is all above board, the launch of increasingly public features and software like Microsoft Designer may well bring these discussions — and artists’ complaints — into the limelight.