By Rachel Cheung
Zhang Wei, a Chinese freelance illustrator with eight years of experience, took up a gig in October to draw characters for novels. The company needed 65 sketches and offered 120 yuan ($17.70) for each. After Zhang filed his first draft, the client was pleased and paid him right away.
Yet days later, Zhang was told his services were no longer needed—the company had decided to replace him with an AI tool. To add insult to injury, he was even shown the artwork generated with the new technology. “It was pretty good,” Zhang told Chinese outlet Guokr last month, speaking under a pseudonym. More importantly, with the AI tool, each image cost the company only 2 cents.
Zhang’s experience underscores growing fears in the creative industry in China and beyond that artists could lose their jobs to AI text-to-image generators, such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and DALL-E—which have taken the internet by storm in recent months.