Whether you’re turning your head away from all things AI because you’re oversaturated or just downright terrified, with AI Fashion Week launching mid-April 2023, there’s simply no escaping it. Most fashion brands are jumping on the bandwagon, the latest being Levi’s. But has the denim giant taken it a step too far?
Collaborating with Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai, Levi’s proudly announced, in a press release published on 22 March, a push for diversity with AI-generated models. The pilot scheme aims to create “a more personal and inclusive shopping experience.”
How exactly? Online customers will be able to see products on a range of AI-generated—in other words, fake—body types and ethnicities. As a result of implementing this new technology, Levi’s hopes to boost sales by offering potential customers a personalised online shopping experience that they can easily relate to.
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The press release puts the current lack of diversity on Levi’s website down to the impracticality and slow pace of the physical fashion shoot, with a maximum of two models per product. The brand’s laziness is ironic considering denim’s history of workwear and hard work.
By comparison, Savage X Fenty’s website features a range of models wearing each product—allowing shoppers to visualise how an item will look on their body and skin tone, as opposed to comparing themselves to unrealistic ideals of beauty. If Rihanna can do it, Levi’s needs to follow suit.
With POC and plus-sized models already under-represented by the industry both in real life and in the digital sphere, the use of AI models is likely to reduce their job opportunities further. It seems the fashion industry would rather use AI-generated individuals than take the time to properly diversify.
The FW23 fashion month saw a significant decline in plus-sized models on the runway. Now, Levi’s has chosen to front its AI launch with a model that fits the conventionally “beautiful” model frame. So much for “body-inclusive avatars.”
Financial discrepancy has run rampant in the industry for years. In the 70s, Somali-American supermodel Iman refused jobs where she would not be paid the same as her white counterparts. 50 years later, minority groups are at risk of not being paid at all, with makeup artists, photographers and set designers, to name a few, also threatened by the rise of AI.
Lalaland.ai is a black-owned business that is “here to diversify the fashion industry and challenge the status quo when it comes to inclusivity, sustainability and innovation.” Yet, its most expensive deal only offers a S-XL size range and just three different “complexions” in exchange for €4,800 a month.
With a net worth of $6.5 billion, Levi’s shouldn’t be too phased by this amount. And after saving $100 million following the mass layoff of 15 per cent of its workforce in 2022, the use of AI is also set to make profits boom.
Again, in comparison, Savage X Fenty offers shoppers sizes ranging from XS to 4XL, and the company’s annual fashion show is a fierce celebration of diversity. Oh, and models are actually paid for it. If Levi’s is as devoted to diversity as it claims, critics are demanding the brand put its money where its mouth is:
Following the backlash, Levi’s responded promptly: “We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such.”
The brand, known for the iconic 501 jeans, spent a lot of time reiterating its “commitment” to diversity and “authentic storylines,” yet there is no mention of how this is going to be achieved. Actions speak louder than words.
There is a fundamental need for brand transparency beyond the surface level. Not only do consumers want to see every body type, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, and disability both on the runways and in campaigns, this must then be replicated at all levels of the workforce. Levi’s attempt at an inclusive shopping experience is sadly nothing more than superficial.
On 28 March 2023, The Wall Street Journal published an article titled The Jobs Most Exposed to ChatGPT, which highlighted that “AI tools could more quickly handle at least half of the tasks that auditors, interpreters and writers do now.” A terrifying prospect for many, myself included.
Heck, even Twitter menace Elon Musk is freaking out, having recently signed a letter that warns of potential risks to society and civilisation by human-competitive AI systems in the form of economic and political disruptions. Oh, him and 1,000 other experts, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, and Yoshua Benigo, often referred to as one of the “godfathers of AI.”
The letter, which was issued by the non-profit Future of Life Institute, calls for a six-month halt to the “dangerous race” to develop systems more powerful than OpenAI’s newly launched GPT-4. Of course, no one’s listening.
Despite the general worry those of us working in creative industries are currently feeling about the possibility of ChatGPT and other AI chatbot tools coming to take our jobs, some companies are offering six-figure salaries to a select few who are great at wringing results out of them, as initially reported by Bloomberg.
Considering the current hype the technology is undergoing, as well as the immense potential it holds, it’s not surprising that we’re already witnessing a jobs market burgeoning for so-called “prompt engineer” positions—with salaries of up to $335,000 per annum.
To put it simply, these roles would require applicants to be ChatGPT wizards who know how to harness its power as effectively as humanly possible and who can train other employees on how to use those tools to their best ability. The rest of the work would still be left to the AI.
Speaking to Bloomberg, Albert Phelps, one of these lucky prompt engineers who works at a subsidiary of the Accenture consultancy firm in the UK, shared that the job entails being something of an “AI whisperer.”
He added that educational background doesn’t play as big of a part in this role as it does in countless others, with ChatGPT experts who have degrees as disparate as history, philosophy, and English. “It’s wordplay,” Phelps told the publication. “You’re trying to distil the essence or meaning of something into a limited number of words.”
Aged only 29, Phelps studied history before going into financial consulting and ultimately pivoting to AI. On a typical day at his job, the AI virtuoso and his colleagues will write about five different prompts and have 50 individual interactions with large language models such as ChatGPT.
Though Mark Standen, the owner of an AI, automation, and machine learning staffing business in the UK and Ireland, told Bloomberg that prompt engineering is “probably the fastest-moving IT market I’ve worked in for 25 years,” adding that “expert prompt engineers can name their price,” it should be noted that people can also sell their prompt-writing skills for $3 to $10 a pop.
PromptBase, for example, is a marketplace for “buying and selling quality prompts that produce the best results, and save you money on API costs.” On there, prompt engineers can keep 80 per cent of every sale of their prompt, and on custom prompt jobs. Meanwhile, the platform takes 20 per cent.
But when it comes to the crème de la crème, Standen went on to note that while the jobs start at the pound sterling equivalent of about $50,000 per year in the UK, there are candidates in his company’s database looking for between $250,000 and $360,000 per year.
There’s obviously no way of knowing if or when the hype surrounding prompt engineers will ever die down, in turn lowering the six-figure salaries that are currently being offered to more ‘standard’ rates. But one thing is for sure, AI tools aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and they’re coming for our jobs.
Time to improve those prompt-feeding skills, I guess.