Could OpenAI’s DALL-E be the blueprint for a “metaverse of abundance”?

OpenAI’s DALL-E is spearheading a creativity revolution, changing the way we think about machine- human collaboration, entry barriers and democratization of aesthethics. Could the communities formed around it give a glimpse of what a metaverse led by user’s creativity could be?

Lately, as we share in Discord and Twitter with other DALL-E users our creations, I started to think about this community as the foundation of a new kind of creative social network, one that transcends the pettiness where scarcity leads to. The Discord server has become a collaborative space, with suggestions for improvement and some emergent social codes on sharing our findings. There is exploration and remixing, because there is no competition for resources. Overall, everyone is showcasing their creations widely and proudly, with a shared sense of astonishment and excitement of testing DALL-E’s capabilities in new ways, and being surprised but the results.

“An award winning photo of a woman with seventies short hair, chewing gum inside an astronaut helmet. Retrofuturistic, silver and orange palette”
“A surreal portrait of a woman with a cloud in her head, telling a secret. Dark, surreal, fantasy art”

(Note to readers: all the pictures in this article have been generated through OpenAI’s Dall-E 2 model)

Similar prompt, completely different result

Is an environment of abundance, where techniques, shortcuts and prompts are shared. Is a collective movement of awe, knowing that each “semantic brushstroke”(as I call this way of creating art where words are your paint) will lead to potentially infinite results, each one different. Some are puzzling, some bizarre, and others extraordinary. A daily theme invites to show creations related to “in the movies” or “skylines”, none of the results look similar to each other. Human creativity is enhanced by DALL-E, as long as you can put into words your goal, describing the mental landscape of the vision you are trying to achieve.

“An award winning photo of a woman with seventies short hair, chewing gum inside an astronaut helmet. Retrofuturistic, silver and orange palette”
““An award winning photo of a woman with seventies short hair, chewing gum inside an astronaut helmet. Retrofuturistic, silver and orange palette””

Imposible combinations, improbable results, there is even a thread of “things-that-shoul-exist-but-not-yet” wich provides a fascinating exercise for imagination. How a chair in the style of H.R.Giger would look like?

“A studio photography of an alien chair by HRR Giger”
““A studio photography of an alien chair by HRR Giger””

It’s an iterative dance with the machine, an exploration of the possibilities of digital abundance, and a report back to a community not driven by likes or metrics of pseudo-fame.

I know this moment in time might not last, that is a contained experiment limited to those of us fortunate to have access to it. OpenAI can (and possibly in the near future, will) restrict access or start charging users.

“An award winning photo of a woman with seventies short hair, chewing gum inside an astronaut helmet. Retrofuturistic, silver and orange palette”
One of my favorites ever “A cat standing in a boat, in a sea of wool, with cotton candy clouds”

But as the embracement of DALL·E mini demonstrates, the movement has already started. Cat is out of the box. The appetite of users will lead to the emergence of other services and alternatives like Midjourney.

Access, a culture of sharing and unleashed creativity would be a nice version of the Metaverse to live in.

The gates will eventually open to other users, and the emergent governance of this polite community can disintegrate under the crushing weight of big numbers. But the blueprint to build on is here, and might be worth exploring for a future metaverse based on digital abundance, just the opposite of what is being sold off by the corporate visions of it and the NFT craze revolving around digital scarcity. A vision of a metaverse where words are your only constraints to build whatever you want, as the opposite of one where you will only be as free as you can afford to pay…

An old cyborg women dreaming, sitting on a desk full of gold in the sunset ligth, surreal art
“An old cyborg women dreaming, sitting on a desk full of gold in the sunset ligth, surreal art”

As a copyright scholar, I found fascinating how creativity manifests in ways that defy the traditional rationales of IP law. “If you don’t limit and control the uses of given work, granting the exclusive exploitation of its economic benefits, authors will not continue to create”. Wrong. Those are the logics of scarcity, that don’t adapt well to some of the dynamics and uses of an online society where being replicated is a form of success, as long as you can trace back attribution. DALL-E does this well, with a “public gallery” to share works, allowing it to trace back to the creator of the image. And here lies some of the most interestings points on how technology can provide ways to remix creativity while preserving authorship. Is it far fetched to think that copyright as we know it can be irrelevant in some version of the future?

Stay tuned for the second part of this article, showcasing the project of Mona Lisa x Dall-E.

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Micaela Mantegna

Abogamer. Video Games, Metaverse & AI ethics. Generative AI, Art and copyright researcher. @TED Fellow. @BKCHarvard Affiliate.