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The Machine Whisperer

Machines can generate art. But telling them what to generate is an art in itself.

Dror Poleg
1 min read
The Machine Whisperer

Telling machines what to do is harder than it sounds. Machines can understand human language thanks to advances in language processing. You can ask them to turn on the light or play a song, and they can even generate software code or an image based on your instructions.

But can they do a good job? And, when it comes to creative work, what does "good" even mean?

If you tell the Stable Diffusion or Dall-e-2 image generator to create an "Icon of a black hat on a blue background," it can generate dozens of different images. Some of them will be ugly or weird. Most or all of them will be unusable. (you can try it here)

To really get a machine to produce something good, you have to know what to say to it. You have to refine your prompt. Figuring out what to say to machines is becoming a profession. And "prompts" are becoming products.

A new website called allows people to buy and sell prompts. For a few dollars, you can buy a string of words like "Icon of a [object] in a black metallic slick material, 3D render isometric perspective rendered in a grey background. Simplistic 3d icon" (I bought that one. And it's copyrighted, so don't steal it!). You can then use that prompt in an image generator and see what comes out. You can tweak it by replacing some of the words to get even closer to what you have in mind.

Speaking to machines will become easier. They will better understand us, and we'll get better and explaining to them what we have in mind. But to get the best results, we'll probably rely on human specialists for a long time. Machines can generate intellectual property on command. But the commands themselves are becoming a new type of intellectual property.