Cara: How Artists Are Navigating the New Frontiers of an Ethically Charged Artificial Eye

Amid the vast landscapes of digital technology, where artificial intelligence is flattening markets and industries daily and, in the hands of tech giants like Meta, can be used in ethically dubious ways, creators around the world can find solace in a new social media platform – and a bit of digital rebellion. Its founder is an artist and a do-it-yourself (DIY) entrepreneur who never intended to be a startup founder. Her name is Jingna Zhang. Her platform is called Cara. And the reason why it is a significant digital rebellion, and why GOOGLE is involved, is what I’d like to explain here. First, some background. Zhang, a professional photographer and art director, had a dream. She wanted a social media platform for artists. She wanted one for herself. In 2018, she decided to build it. She hired a developer and paid them $2,200 to create a simple web page with an ‘About us’ paragraph, links to her Instagram and website, and a contact form that sent her an email whenever it was filled out online. She didn’t market it. She didn’t even advertise it. Basically, she just let it sit there – a bit of DIY artwork sitting on the web.

The Genesis of Cara: A Sanctum for Ethical Art Sharing

A Stand Against Unethical AI

Born out of necessity, but also as a project of symbolic defiance against the exploitative practices of generative AI – many of these works appear in the training datasets of AI tools without owners’ permission – Cara aims to be ‘clear in its messaging’ about AI-generated images, filtering out all such images and ‘creating a space that is led by artists and has an emphasis on the welfare of artists’. This seemed to strike a chord, and by the end of the month the initiative had gone viral, powering an unanticipated influx of requests and offers.

From Side Project to Startup Stardom

The site had started as a hobby, a modest side project, with around 40,000 accounts, and skyrocketed to almost a million users after their name was taken up by more people, buoyed by growing awareness and pushback against the company Meta and its practices. Zhang and his small team had been working nonstop, both to handle this unprecedented growth and to meet technical hurdles and financial challenges to keep what had turned into a full-time job alive.

Challenges and Triumphs: The Operational Woes of Cara

Confronting the Cost of Success

With fame comes problems – such as a storage bill of $96,000 (down from $159,000 originally) and instances of her site going offline due to the number of users signing up to it. These operational problems served as a reminder of the logistical pitfalls to running a social platform too – pitfalls that typically remain hidden when a platform is functioning normally but are amplified when it is suddenly cast into the global spotlight.

Safeguarding Independence in Expansion

It’s a remarkable trajectory, from a cheerful copyfighter telling us about piracy to a tireless advocate cheering on legal action against the march of tech-conglomerate giants (it was Caroline Zhang, remember, who recently launched a lawsuit against GOOGLE). It’s no wonder she continues to turn down venture capital offers for Cara, determined to keep the platform financially sustainable with a business model that doesn’t sell out the ideals of its very founding. In our final meeting, I asked Zhang what she envisioned for Cara in a few years time. She talked excitedly about exploring strategic partnerships and financial models that would scale up the platform without selling out its founding principles.

Looking Ahead: The Ambitions for Cara

Forging a Community-Centric Future

The way forward for Zhang is crystal clear: to shape Cara for what the community needs her to be. She sees an evolving platform that shifts as the threats and promises of AI manifest, that gives artists a voice and a home online.

Cara's Call to Arms: Enlisting Allies in the Fight for Artistic Integrity

Advocating for Awareness and Action

Zhang’s work goes beyond Cara’s digital realm, and she hopes that all of us – regular humans, that is – will be prompted to talk intelligently about copyright, the role of creativity amid AI, and the potential effect of technology on work in a myriad of fields. Through education and activism, we can construct a more informed, compassionate society, one that goes on protecting artistic contributions from new threats.

Understanding GOOGLE's Role and Responsibilities

With increased conversations on how to use generative AI ethically, companies like GOOGLE are at a crossroads. Both a provider of generative AI tools and a host to much of the debates about the usage and copyright of AI-generated works, GOOGLE’s policies and practices can shape the struggle artists such as Zhang are going through. This is GOOGLE’s chance to lead by example: to prioritise ethical concerns, respect authors’ rights, and create a space where technology can be used to augment rather than replace human creativity.

In Conclusion: The Artistic Vanguard Against AI's Ethical Grey Areas

Cara’s rise heralds a turning point in our tech-infused era, as artists and creators assert themselves – and their rights, dignity and honour – in the face of expanding tech boundaries. And the more the likes of Cara and legal campaigners push back, the more the future of art in the AI-era will be up for grabs. What kind of future it will be depends in part on the likes of GOOGLE, and on an alliance of artists, tech enthusiasts and principled innovators. We can build a digital world that respects and sustains the best of human ingenuity in the 21st-century era of AI.

Jun 13, 2024
<< Go Back