Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photo: Andy Warhol: 32 Campbell's soup cans via Flickr
Machine-learning programs that can produce sometimes jaw-dropping images from brief text prompts have advanced in a matter of months from a "that's quite a trick" stage to a genuine cultural disruption.
Why it matters: These new AI capabilities confront the world with a mountain of questions over the rights to the images the programs learned from, the likelihood they will be used to spread falsehoods and hate, the ownership of their output and the nature of creativity itself.
Driving the news: Open AI's Dall-E 2 kicked this revolution off earlier this year, as programmers, journalists and artists granted early access to the program flooded social media with examples of its work.
Between the lines: Where Dall-E 2 is owned and controlled by Open AI, Stable Diffusion is open source, meaning anyone with a little skill can download and run it on their own systems.
Our thought bubble: Multiple generations of digital tech have been rushed into large-scale use only to cause a wide range of social woes. AI was supposed to be different, but Stable Diffusion's "damn the torpedoes" approach suggests an "if it can be done, it will be done" mindset will prevail again.
Catch up quick: The new image-producing AIs don't cut and paste from existing images but instead use a technique called "diffusion" that evolves a random dot pattern iteratively to produce a result that matches a pattern.
It's not always easy to figure out what images a particular AI "learned" from, but blogger and XOXO Festival co-creator Andy Baio worked with programmer Simon Willison to create a tool for exploring one small portion of the training set data Stability AI used to train Stable Diffusion.
Meanwhile, art competitions and sites devoted to showcasing artists' work are grappling with how to cope with a potential flood of AI-generated images, with some online communities beginning to ban them.
Here are three key ethics questions around this new software explosion, courtesy of Baio:
Flashback: Technology has been reshaping the arts forever because art-making itself is a kind of technology.
What's next: These programs are likely to keep getting more efficient and less distinguishable from magic. Their collisions with our existing systems of intellectual property law are likely to be epic.