SGC 2023 - Ethical use of AI tools in the gaming industry
For all who missed my talk at the Shawnee Game Conference this year, I kicked off the conference with my 9am Friday morning discussion on ethical use of AI tools in the gaming industry. Attached below is a link to my slide deck from the talk but I will surmise the take aways here for all who are interested in hearing my thoughts.
AI tools are here to stay. You cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube. So, how do we, as game design professionals ensure that we are ethically leveraging these tools?
I am not going to get into the interworking’s of LLMs and AI. I am not a programmer or computer scientist. As the CEO and creative director of Objective Reality VR, my job is to ensure the longevity of our company AND the livelihood of our staff. I cannot run this company on an island. Great companies are only great because of the amazing people that comprise them. I take a somewhat radical approach to decision making. Prior to my work with Objective Reality, I was a substance abuse professional. In this space ethics and boundaries are key to ensuring the safety of your clients as well as yourself and sadly somewhat lost in the corporate world. So what is Ethical Decision making and why does this matter?
The standard model of ethical decision making can be somewhat complex but essentially, we want to ensure that we understand all of the available data, points of view, and alternative solutions prior to making any big decisions. Take the time to do your research, talk to your staff, and think of alternative solutions. Weigh them out equally, and then ask yourself two questions.
1. Who has the potential for being harmed by this action? And what is that potential?
2. Does this decision violate any of our core values or the company’s ethics?
Our core values are those beliefs that we hold most dear. For example, love of family. Understanding what our values are is a crucial component of self-awareness. These values are what drive our emotions and decision-making process. Ethics are those policies and rules that we build within our organization, often derived from our values.
So now that we understand ethics and values in a bit more detail, let’s discuss how this decision-making process can be applied to AI tools. There are AI tools for just about every facet of game design. Tools that can create 3d models, audio, animation, art, and even storytelling. However, it is important to keep in mind that AI cannot create novel concepts. It simply aggregates data to deliver an answer that mimics what is currently available. Therefor nothing fundamentally new will be created using AI. I should caveat this with, today. Who knows where we will be in the next 5 years.
But if we take those two questions into account as we decide to use the available tools, who has the potential of being harmed? If I use an AI to generate all our 3d models, our artist is harmed. We are eliminating the need for our artists to design these objects. If we use AI to generate game sounds and music, the audio engineer is affected. But for an indie studio, leveraging these tools could mean the difference between a launchable product and not. We are always worried about our budgets and if AI tools can speed up design time and we can do it in a way that does not violate our ethics, should we use them? To that I say, yes!
Before I get into the ways our studio leverages AI today, let’s talk about protecting our data from AI scrubbing. It is infuriating that an artist, storyteller, or audio engineer can spend time and energy developing something amazing, proudly put it out into the community to share their art, only to then have a machine learning algorithm aggregate that artwork into developing an AI work. So how do we keep our artwork from being a data point for AI? To that there is no simple answer. Anything we put out online is a free game. The immediate solution is to stop sharing on social media, GIT repositories, or blog posts. If you are looking for work and need to share a portfolio, share it as in a link. Giving permission to those you want to view your work. I’m sure solutions will come out soon, but I do understand the frustrations. We are in the wild west of AI right now and it is up to us to advocate and help form the ethics and boundaries within the industry.
At Objective Reality, we are both a game design, as well as VR/AR simulation studio. We are a small team. Our projects are highly specialized and, in many times, require out of the box thinking. Our team is highly skilled at finding solutions that others cannot see. So, for example, in our company AI animation tools are not replacing our animator. It is Alyssa’s responsibility to research and determine the best AI tools to assist her in the project. Using the AI tool to augment her skills. Reducing the time, it takes to animate a scene by months. So as the CEO, I am not replacing an employee with an AI tool. I am simply tasking our staff to find tools that can increase our productivity. Freeing up our time and energy for those tasks that AI cannot, nor would we want them to accomplish, the innovation. So, in my opinion, we need not fight the rise of AI tools in our industry, rather, let’s embrace the ways AI can increase our productivity and lead us to innovative new experiences, inconceivable today. We value community, family, and innovation. Any decisions we make as a company must take these values seriously. So we will not leverage tools in an attempt to replace an employee. As a business, any tool we can utilize that will help reduce development time is both good for our budget and our customer. So we are always researching ways, both AI and not, that will help achieve that goal.
Again, we have the power today to advocate and let the developers behind the AI systems, what we value and form the ethical standards needed to ensure the industry survives and thrives along side these new tools.