Adobe has publicly released Artificial Intelligence features in their software for years, from the Sensei product announced in 2016 to the release of Firefly in 2023. Prior to these major initiatives, Adobe experimented with AI from the very early days, and pioneered the use of AI for several product features. With the Adobe Express beta, they included an early version of generative AI based on Firefly.
Comparisons with leading generative AI tools
As AI takes the world by storm, Adobe’s generative AI is often perceived as being less powerful than leading alternatives. It’s easy to find many unfavorable comparisons. Perhaps the most popular comparison is with Midjourney, as in this video.
The presenter is disappointed that the Express beta doesn’t produce the likeness of Elon Musk. Adobe-generated images, many say, look too much like “stock” images.
The double-edged sword of ethics and respect for intellectual property
It is easy to understand why Firefly-generated images often have a “stock” look. Firefly was trained solely on images for which Adobe had legal rights. On the other hand, most leading tools like Midjourney, Dall-E, and Stable Diffusion were trained by scraping the entire web, including copyrighted materials. Adobe has chosen to take the ethical high ground, which may well liberate generated images from intellectual property concerns.
While in the short term, this may hold back the quality of output and limit the range of use cases, it is unlikely that the disadvantages will last long. Adobe is in a unique position to gather content, through both its growing stock library and its incredible user base of creatives around the world. And Midjourney, Deviant Art, and others who simply scraped the web are now facing legal challenges.
The Adobe advantages in generative AI
Overall, I expect Adobe to be a leader in the generative AI space, for several reasons:
A strong ethical/legal stance
As mentioned above, the purity of their approach to training models and managing ethical concerns will keep Adobe out of court while re-assuring users of Adobe software that they won’t face legal issues involving content further down the road. The even offer indemnification in the eventuality of such incidents.
Adobe is not alone in following ethical standards. Shutterstock, and several other large stock image/software companies have comparable policies, which will potentially safeguard them while ensuring greater favor by artists/organizations concerned with ethics.
Software that augments and enhances AI-generated art
As the world leader at design software, Adobe has a huge body of algorithms for image processing, and markets popular tools for creating, managing, and publishing images and documents. Generating an image inside of Photoshop or InDesign, for example, is ideal for a designer who will use that image. They can place it in a document or another image, or apply effects to it. All within a single application.
Designer relationships to gather information and assets
With their millions of worldwide users in the creative/design space, Adobe can potentially gather art and information (again, within ethical guidelines) that will train their AI. From raw content, to information on how designers use that content and the AI tools themselves, it is quite possible that Adobe’s community can be a huge asset in continuously improving their AI-based offerings.
An existing, proven business model and market share
Not everything in new technology has to be disruptive in every way. While a platform like Midjourney shows amazing technical capability, their business model has yet to be proven, and already they are facing potential legal challenges for how their software was created. Adobe, on the other hand, is using Firefly throughout its existing product offerings, which are already entrenched in the market.
Only time will tell
Of course this technology has only recently taken the world by storm, and things will move at a fast clip as it gains broader adoption while the core tech advances. Laws will certainly be passed, and cases settled that will further clarify the IP situation over time. It will be exciting to see how generative AI advances, and where Adobe ends up in the creative workflows of the future.
Generative AI will not replace designers. It will radically change their toolset and workflows, that much is certain. But ultimately it is a tool, not a creator. In my opinion, designers should embrace AI: Adobe technology makes this easy.