Unity's found itself under fire from the public these past few months—and for decent reasons. In June, for instance, it announced that it would incorporate AI programs into its developer tools, something it didn't really elaborate well enough on to soothe artists and developer fears alike.
Unsurprisingly, it then had to drop one of its AI partners after it was found to have just been pulling models wholescale from SketchFab, like this cat from Murdered Soul Suspect. Then there was the whole pricing fee fiasco, which is pretty much still ongoing, with revelations that it was a rushed-out decision in October amidst its CEO's resignation. Trust in Unity has eroded, which makes any calls of 'we're doing the right thing here, we promise' a hard sell.
Now, in an interview with gamesindustry.biz, Unity Create general manager Marc Whitten wants you to know that its AI tools are all above-board and squeaky clean. The Muse suite includes a chat function, a texture generator, and sprite generator, which all use "data and images that Unity owns or has licensed", according to Whitten.
"To ensure that the outputs are safe and don’t contain any copyrighted materials or recognisable artistic styles, we went through a multi-step process—including both human oversight and machine learning—to generate new synthetic outputs that were re-processed over and over. And then, we applied a custom-built model to this highly processed five million image data set."
Unity Chat, on the other hand, still uses external large language models to understand the questions it's being asked—but it's built to answer questions, not make stuff. The responses themselves, Whitten says, are built from first-party Unity resources or "consensually sourced" answers.
Just because Unity as a company has earned itself cynicism, I do want to give Whitten—assuming these promises aren't just corporate-speak—due credit. As long as there aren't any hidden technicalities I'm missing, it seems like there's nothing wrong with these tools from an ethical standpoint. Unity, against all odds, appears to be starting to 'do the right thing'—as much as it can in our current climate, which still may not be great.
There's no overlooking that these AI-generated tools—while helpful—also exist in a sector that's experiencing wave after wave of harsh layoffs. Including Unity itself, which rolled out the "leaner [and] more agile" tagline, forecasting future layoffs despite earning $544 million in its most recent quarter.
If these tools, built to make developers' lives easier, are instead used as an excuse to hire less staff and increase existing dev workload, then nothing's really improved for anybody except the company's bottom line. Which is frustrating, because tech like this can be genuinely used to improve people's lives—as can any modern technology. Whether society catches up is a whole different story.
For now, though, Whitten says Unity is doing its best to keep its use of AI fair and above-board. "Our approach", Whitten says, "is to think through how we can deliver tools that are easy for creators to use, responsibly sourced, and with output that creators can feel confident in using in their projects." Maybe that's all we can really ask for.