The artificial intelligence craze may be dying down, but that hasn't stopped AI products from flooding places like Amazon and Etsy and fooling consumers. And the proliferation of low quality, artificially generated products could be hurting real creators.
Examples Of AI Products In The Marketplace
While platforms like ChatGPT and Midjourney aren't the first to allow individuals to generate content based on user prompts, they're among the most popular and easily accessible. Thanks to their prevalence, just about anybody can ask these platforms to generate content. And thanks to lax policies on platforms like Amazon and Etsy, people can somewhat anonymously create store profiles to start selling these generated goods.
Some of the most common types of AI products available include coloring books, self improvement books, canvas prints and posters, audio books, and music. And because many generative AI platforms will also respond to prompts that ask for something "in the style of" another artist, these anonymous sellers can create imitation products, bootleg merchandise, and other generally uncool things.
Most artificially generated products have some pretty obvious tells. For instance, images in books may have disfigured hands or other clear errors. Books may seem to start to ramble, repeat, or veer wildly off course in their subject matter. And things like music and audiobooks that purport to use a certain person's voice typically don't hold up upon repeat scrutiny. As the common meme goes, these are the "Wish.com" knockoffs — except even worse, and more legally dubious.
How These Artificially Generated Goods Can Harm Consumers And Creators
It's important to break down how AI products are bad for just about everybody involved — except for the "author" (unless you believe in karma).
For starters, in many cases these just plainly aren't good products. One Washington Post article noted how many of the AI-generated products contain glaring errors. In one case, Amazon only removed a guide to foraging mushrooms when users pointed out the guide contained erroneous information about which mushrooms were poisonous and which were edible. They can be unsatisfying, incorrect, or even downright dangerous.
And when it comes to how AI products harm content creators, the examples go from general to deliberate. There is, of course, the existential threat of these inferior products replacing real work made by real creators. And then there's the ethical and legal questions surrounding generative AI, and the fact that allowing these products to hit online marketplaces only proliferates potentially stolen goods that undervalue creative labor.
And sometimes, it's just straight up theft. According to the Washington Post, "Many image generators have been used to create art in the style of Polish artist Greg Rutkowski, who makes elaborate fantasy landscapes and has spoken out against AI tools. Author Jane Friedman discovered multiple books published on Amazon that used her name and mimicked her writing style. She believes the books, which have been removed, probably used AI that had been trained using her writing to sound like her and profit off her brand."
What Are Companies Doing About It And How Do You Avoid Falling For AI Products?
You'll probably note that in the case of the poisonous mushrooms and the Jane Friedman theft, Amazon ultimately removed the products from the store. So it's not like these companies are completely immutable to the issue. But in most cases, the products only get removed when a significant portion of people point out they're potentially dangerous or illegal.
That's because as with many self-serve e-commerce platforms, there's plenty of room for things to slip through the cracks. And then these platforms rely on community policing instead of more stringent checks. (It may not help that all these platforms are also chomping at the bit to introduce AI features into their own toolsets). Ultimately, most stores don't require sellers to acknowledge if a product they're selling used generative AI in the process. And that's a real problem.
Likewise, companies like Spotify are interested in combatting fraudulent streams, but the policy around AI-generated material becomes a lot hazier. The same goes for YouTube and other huge content distribution platforms.
So how then do consumers avoid falling for these traps? In some cases, it's easier than others. When it comes to books, you can do a little bit of research on the "authors." If the author is essentially unsearchable on the Internet, it's a major red flag. Reviews can also be helpful, though it's important to note that some companies have also taken to generating reviews of their own products in attempts to mislead. If there are decent enough product pictures, check them with serious scrutiny.
Right now, it's still largely up to users to police misuse of AI tools. If you see anything that feels suspicious, be sure to directly bring it up with any of the companies that have the product listed on their site.