Microsoft is making a major investment in DALL-E 2, OpenAI’s AI-powered system that generates images from text, by bringing it to first-party apps and services.
During its Ignite conference this week, Microsoft announced that it’s integrating DALL-E 2 with the newly announced Microsoft Designer app and Image Creator tool in Bing and Microsoft Edge.
With the advent of DALL-E 2 and open source alternatives like Stable Diffusion in recent years, AI image generators have exploded in popularity. In September, OpenAI said that more than 1.5 million users were actively creating over 2 million images a day with DALL-E 2, including artists, creative directors and authors.
Brands such as Stitch Fix, Nestlé and Heinz have piloted DALL-E 2 for ad campaigns and other commercial use cases, while certain architectural firms have used DALL-E 2 and tools akin to it to conceptualize new buildings.
“Microsoft and OpenAI have partnered closely since 2019 to accelerate breakthroughs in AI.
"We have teamed up with OpenAI to develop, test and responsibly scale the latest AI technologies,” Microsoft CVP of modern life, search and devices Liat Ben-Zur told TechCrunch via email.
“Microsoft is the exclusive provider of cloud computing services to OpenAI and is OpenAI’s preferred partner for commercializing new AI technologies.
We’ve started to do this through programs like the Azure OpenAI Service and GitHub Copilot, and we’ll continue to explore solutions that harness the power of AI and advanced natural language generation."
Seeking to bring OpenAI’s tech to an even wider audience, Microsoft is launching Designer, a Canva-like web app that can generate designs for presentations, posters, digital postcards, invitations, graphics and more to share on social media and other channels.
Designer — whose announcement leaked repeatedly this spring and summer — leverages user-created content and DALL-E 2 to ideate designs, with drop-downs and text boxes for further customization and personalization.
Within Designer, users can choose from various templates to get started on specific, defined-dimensions designs for platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn Facebook ads and Instagram Stories.
Prebuilt templates are available from the web, as are shapes, photos, icons and headings that can be added to projects.
“Microsoft Designer is powered by AI technology, including DALL-E 2, which means the ability to instantly generate a variety of designs,” Ben-Zur continued. “[It] helps you bring your ideas to life."
Designer will remain free during a limited preview period, Microsoft says — users can sign up starting today.
Once the Designer app is generally available, it’ll be included in Microsoft 365 Personal and Family subscriptions and have “some” functionality free to use for non-subscribers, though Microsoft didn’t elaborate.
Another new Microsoft-developed app underpinned by DALL-E 2 is Image Creator, heading to Bing and Edge in the coming weeks.
As the name implies, Image Creator — accessed via the Bing Images tab or bing.com/create, or through the Image Creator icon in the sidebar within Edge — generates art given a text prompt by funneling requests to DALL-E 2, acting like a frontend client for OpenAI’s still-in-beta DALL-E 2 service.
Typing in a description of something, any additional context, like location or activity, and an art style will yield an image from Image Creator. “Image Creator will soon create images that don’t yet exist, limited only by your imagination,” Ben-Zur added.
Unlike Designer, Image Creator in Bing and Edge will be completely free to use, but Microsoft — wary of potential abuse and misuse — says it’ll take a “measured approach” to rolling out the app.
Image Creator will initially only be available in preview for select geographies, which Microsoft says will allow it to gather feedback before expanding the app further.
Some image-generating systems have been used to create objectionable content, like graphic violence and pornographic, nonconsensual celebrity deepfakes.
The organization funding the development of Stable Diffusion, Stability AI, was even the subject of a critical recent letter from U.S. House Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) to the National Security Advisor (NSA) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, in which she urged the NSA and OSTP to address the release of “unsafe AI models” that “do not moderate content made on their platforms.”
Image-generating AI can also pick up on the biases and toxicities embedded in the millions of images from the web used to train them.
OpenAI itself noted in an academic paper that an open source implementation of DALL-E could be trained to make stereotypical associations like generating images of white-passing men in business suits for terms like “CEO,” for example.
In response to questions about mitigation measures in Designer and Image Creator, Microsoft noted that OpenAI removed explicit sexual and violent content from the dataset used to train DALL-E 2.
The company also said that it took steps of its own, including deploying filters to limit the generation of images that violate content policy, additional query blocking on sensitive topics and technology to deliver “more diverse” images to results.
If a user requests an image deemed inappropriate by Microsoft’s automated filters, they’ll get a warning. If they repeatedly violate the content policy, they’ll be banned, but have a chance to appeal.
“It’s important, with early technologies like DALL-E 2, to acknowledge that this is new, and we expect it to continue to evolve and improve,” Ben-Zur said. “We take our commitment to responsible AI seriously … We will not allow users to generate violent content, we may distort people’s faces and won’t show text strings used as input.”
Addressing some of the legal questions that’ve sprung up recently around AI-powered image generation systems, Microsoft says that users will have “full” usage rights to commercialize the images they create with Designer and Image Creator.
Among other hosts, Getty Images has banned the upload and sale of illustrations generated using DALL-E 2, Stable Diffusion and similar tools, citing fair use concerns about training datasets containing copyrighted images.
In other words, the company — adopting a commercial usage policy similar to OpenAI’s — won’t claim ownership of prompts, captions, creations or any other content that users provide, post, input or submit to the apps.
When asked whether Microsoft believes the images used to train DALL-E 2 were fair use, Ben-Zur declined to answer.