A moodboard to illustrate AI 

While generative machine learning models have created a horizon of uncertainty for illustrators, and the companies operating them have unilaterally decided that creative work should be “improved” and made more efficient and less costly, illustrators are systematically framed as passive actors of this fate. We just need to wait and see how this inevitable wave will change our lives. 

I suggest here that illustrators have a specific power to claim as their own : that of creating representations. We’ve seen many blueish robots and countless ethereal digital creatures used as metaphors for machine learning and its impact on social life. Yet, machine learning is first and foremost applied statistic, human labour, and material resources. Illustrators are at the core of how things look like, and the visual language the rest of the population uses to visualize an issue often stems from the visual labour of illustrators. This means that by shifting slightly how we represent AI in the articles we’re hire to illustrate, we might slowly shift its public representations and open the way for more critical engagement with it. What if instead of blueish, futuristic tones, AI illustrations were using the pinks, greens  and yellows from lithium mines used to power computers, or the muddy grey of data centres consuming millions of gallons of water? What if instead of abstract robots AI was personified in the global south workers annotating data, or the obscure spreadsheets of datasets? 

Using another technology of decontextualization and objectification of illustrators’ work, the moodboard, I propose here a growing repertoire of inspirations for illustrators and art directors to draw from when reprensenting machine learning becomes necessary in their work. This project echoes other initiatives directed at a wider audience like Philipp Schmitt’s Blueprint For Intelligence or the Better Images for AI project, but is meant to be a working tools specifically for commercial artists.