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AI-Everything: How To Feel Confident Given The Advent Of Robot-Generated Fonts.

Many of us refuse to believe in AI (as in, generated by artificial intelligence) fonts because we’re scared AI fonts will lead to AI blog writers and we’d very much prefer to think we’re irreplaceable, particularly by robots. Thank you very much.

But alas, a breaking news bulletin just informed us our state of denial is as poorly timed as ever—AI content writing currently exists thanks to Memphis, Tennessee startup Copy.ai. Oh well. Please don’t tell our boss. But wait, can that dastardly robot (the AI, not our boss) do THIS…...?

Pink rhinoceros paper airplane watermelon sunrise taffy grape knee-high ampersand @*$**# tortoise shell XOXO mauve ice cream sundae.

On a WHIM?

Don’t answer that.

Okay fine. AI is here to stay until we figure out a way to unplug it. In the meantime...

What exactly is an AI font?

In an effort to make this blog more like a conversation we’d have at a fun cocktail party chock-full of super cool designers such as yourself, we’ll describe AI fonts in the following vernacular:

Humans input many fonts into a machine. The machine quickly discerns the significance of the letters, symbols, and numbers based on appearance. Then humans input keywords based on the fonts they’ve fed into the machine that tell the machine both what kind of new font the humans want the machine to produce, as well as how many crisp $100 bills and from which year.

From there, AI tech creates a brand-new font that human eyes have never seen the likes of.

Finally, this same AI tech eventually just keeps all the 100-dollar bills, steals our 2006 Subaru Forester for some reason, and moves to Belize.

How about a more detailed description for those of us into this stuff, minus the allusions to robot uprisings?

Understood. Very skilled and intelligent people train computer models with a massive font dataset. From this input, the computer models create glyphs—letters, numbers, and symbols (just like font-related keywords or tags)—by the thousands. The computer model then screens the glyphs based on characteristic and affinity values, converts them into vectorized images, and finally produces font files that should sound familiar: .TTF or .OTF.

Spooky.

Cool. Who’s doing this now…mad scientists? Rabble-rousers? Ne’er-do-wells?

Nope. A Miami, Florida-based technology company Picsart uses AI to create new fonts, probably at this very second.

Picsart’s launched its suite of online photo and video applications in 2011. But the AI thing began just this past year through the formation of the Picsart AI Research lab, a team (of humans) tasked with creating the app’s first end-to-end AI-generated fonts.

And they’ve done it. Over 30 AI fonts are available as part of the subscription plan “Picsart Gold,” and additional fonts will be added throughout 2022 (since AI pretty much makes the potential for font creation endless). Picsart users simply search for “AI Fonts” in the font library of the mobile app or the website, then select any font name containing the words “AI Lab.”

There’s more—so much more—happening with this exploratory technology:
  • Viennese-based design studio Process generates new typefaces using AI. Their Alfont system “...uses deep learning, a Deep Convolutional Generative Adversarial Network, and a dataset consisting of more than 200,000 different fonts to come up with new ones.”
  • Daniel Wenzel works in the field of graphic and type design. He came up with this project, where the font is generated spontaneously and visually alters itself at every website visit.
  • Type design practice NaN trained a machine learning model to generate realistic letterforms (if you follow the link, scroll down just a smidge to find “Machine Learning Font”).
  • Jean Böhm—a designer and developer with a love for typography—created a pixel-based neural network called StyleGAN. When trained with font pictures, StyleGAN produced a brand-new font.
  • Design and consulting firm IDEO created this interactive map of more than 750 fonts organized by machine learning.
  • pixolution built a model that learned to recognize the unique characteristics of a font, regardless of the words, language, color, size, or background used. Oh, that one was for Extensis! Super cool.

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Okay. How many AI-generated fonts are Extensis users currently managing in their awesome creative worlds?

We wandered over to our Development Team’s secret underground lair to answer this question. After being repeatedly denied entry because we still haven’t paid them back for the $20 we borrowed to hit that really good taco truck that parks outside the office on Wednesdays, they finally got sick of our pleading/broke-ness and responded with the following information.

“No, we’re unable to identify AI-generated fonts mainly because there’s nothing technically different about them. Technologically speaking, a font is a font is a font. So once the font is created by a human or a robot, we won’t be able to detect the difference using the tooling available to us today.”

Dear Development Team: doesn’t this very clandestine AI behavior make you nervous about robot uprisings?

“No. And please get out of our underground lair so we can get back to work.”

So what’s these mean for the future of creativity?

We will all eventually submit to the awesome power of our robot overlords and/or rebel against them ala The Terminator (1984), Terminator 2 Judgement Day (1991), Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), Terminator Salvation (2009), Terminator Genisys (2015), Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as well as The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984) although in the Muppets’ case we will succumb to their cuddle-ability as opposed to unstoppable power.

Or, to be more helpful, consider this: according to a March 29, 2021 article in Wired magazine, open-sourced AI projects like Eleuther—a language algorithm that can generate convincing text—can be misused to create misinformation (similar to its closed source cousin, AI research and deployment company OpenAI). Or, when drawing from random text, AI can accidentally reproduce bias.

But the fact pitfalls tend to advance together with technology isn’t new to human history. What most civilians don’t know is the work of design is the work of empathy, about connecting with what other people care about. With this posture, any agency will succeed with AI-generated fonts, and any designer will ensure AI isn’t misused.

This means designers will work shoulder to shoulder with AI-everything. UX designer, product design strategist, author, and speaker Mikios Philiips describes the future of AI-imbued creativity best in this blog post for freelancing platform Toptal:

“A more useful way to think about AI … is ‘augmented intelligence.’ Robots are not replacing designers. AI is going to be mostly about optimization and speed. Designers working with AI can create designs faster and more cheaply due to the increased speed and efficiency it offers. The power of AI will lie in the speed in which it can analyze vast amounts of data and suggest design adjustments. A designer can then cherry-pick and approve adjustments based on that data.”

AI-Everything: How To Feel Confident Given The Advent Of Robot-Generated Fonts.

And Robot Pizzerias. There’s One In France We Hear.

It’s Pazzi—Le robot Pizzaiolo, 42 Rue Rambuteau, 75003 Paris. See you there.

Let’s defer to someone who is arguably the world’s most knowledgeable typography expert and ask for an opinion. Thomas Phinney is a type designer, consultant, expert witness known as “The Font Detective,” and former CEO of font creation/editing software company Fontlab:

“So the short version is, AI generated fonts are not really a thing in wide use as of yet. Now, that doesn’t mean there is no interesting work happening in this area. I expect a lot of the early success in this area will be around things that take a certain amount of human-created input and extend that to creating a font or creating more characters for a font, rather than computers generating entirely novel fonts out of nothing.”

Which is a good thing. If the advent of AI-everything means the automation of routine tasks, easy access from any device, proficient tools, and simplifying complex processes, our designer world just got more room for us to focus on what’s most important: creativity.

Guess we don’t have to unplug the AI after all.