John Scalzi Discovers That One of His Book Covers Was Created Using AI

Book by Its Cover

Acclaimed sci-fi author John Scalzi, perhaps best known for his 2005 novel "Old Man's War," hasn't shied away from the debate around AI, art, and creative industries.

Back in December 2022, after some public experimentation with AI, he wrote on his blog that going forward he would be insisting to publishers he works with that his book covers feature "art that is 100 percent human-derived, even if stock art elements are used."

"I think there is probably a way to responsibly use and generate art with AI, which probably includes ways to make sure 'training' is opt-in and compensated for, but we’re not there yet, and I’m okay waiting for some additional clarity before I start playing with it again in public," he wrote.

But in a perfect illustration of the growing ubiquity of algorithmic illustrations, Scalzi has now taken to his blog again with a striking admission: some AI slipped by that edict and ended up on the cover of one of his books.

"Well, Goddamnit, it looks like some 'AI'-generated art got onto one of my covers, specifically, the cover to the Italian edition of 'Starter Villain,'" he wrote. "Some (actual human) artists tracked down the cover art, and (on Adobe’s stock art site, at least), it’s marked as 'generated with AI.'"

Little Italy

It sounds like the mixup came down to a communication failure.

"It’s my policy not to accept AI-generated art for final cover art, and I thought I and my team had communicated that widely," Scalzi wrote. "When this art was presented to me for approval, I made the assumption that it was done by a human, and approved it. So, this is on me."

"The choice of this art was made several months ago, and not every stock art site (and this stock art is on more than one site) then or now labels their available stock art as 'AI-generated,'" he continued. "It’s possible that this was chosen in the belief it was created by an actual person. Likewise, it’s possible that my 'no AI' policy fell through a crack somewhere between here and Italy. Basically, there are a lot of places where something could have fallen down without assuming bad faith on anyone’s part. These are explanations, mind you, not excuses. If you’re going to blame someone for this, it’s me you need to blame. My name is on that cover."

Regardless, Scalzi's handling of the discovery seems like a model for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation — which, given the Wild West of still-forming norms and practices around AI art, wouldn't be surprising for anyone in a creative industry.

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