Angering Paleontologists: AI’s Portrayal of Prehistoric Animals Sparks Outrage

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The Impact of AI on Paleoart: Enhancing the Scientific Record


In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in various fields has become increasingly prevalent. From astronomy to archaeology, AI has proven to be a powerful tool for data analysis and interpretation. However, when it comes to the realm of paleoart – the scientific reconstruction of prehistoric creatures – the use of AI has sparked controversy and debate. While AI-generated images have their uses, they often fall short in accurately portraying extinct animals and their environments. This article explores the implications of AI on paleoart and delves into the ethical considerations surrounding its use.

Understanding Paleoart

Paleoart, in its essence, is the artistic reconstruction of ancient creatures based on scientific knowledge and evidence. It goes beyond simply depicting an extinct animal in a plausible setting; it involves a meticulous process of research and decision-making to create an accurate representation. This process includes studying the bones of the animal, applying muscles and soft tissues, considering the animal’s environment, and incorporating knowledge from related extant species. Paleoartists draw inspiration from both scientific findings and their own artistic interpretation, resulting in a unique blend of science and art.

The Limitations of AI in Paleoart

While AI has made remarkable strides in image generation, it still falls short in producing paleoart with the same nuance and accuracy as a human artist. AI image generators lack the ability to assimilate complex and varied information, such as an animal’s evolutionary relationship, ecological niche, and speculative anatomical features. As Jacob Blokland, a paleontologist and paleoartist, notes, “palaeoart” is a concept that remains unique to human illustrators who can incorporate scientific knowledge and make justified decisions in their artwork.

The Scientific Process Behind Paleoart

Paleoart plays a crucial role in science communication, as it helps scientists and the public visualize and understand new findings in paleontology. It bridges the gap between the distant past and our present, offering a glimpse into worlds tens or hundreds of millions of years removed from us. However, creating scientifically accurate paleoart is a complex and time-consuming process. Artists must rely on the limited knowledge available from fossilized remains and make informed decisions about an animal’s appearance, behavior, and environment. Despite the extensive effort put into these illustrations, their true value may often be lost on the average viewer.

The Importance of Human Touch in Paleoart

One of the essential aspects of paleoart is the human touch – the ability to infuse personal perspective and lived experience into the artwork. Each paleoartist sees the world and its creatures differently, resulting in unique interpretations. AI, on the other hand, lacks the capacity to consider lived experience and personal perspective, making it incapable of producing paleoart that captures the full depth and complexity of the subject matter. As Natalia Jagielska, a paleoartist, explains, AI-generated paleoart may lack the self-expression and artistry that are integral to the field.

Ethical Considerations in AI-Generated Paleoart

The use of AI in paleoart raises various ethical concerns. Some argue that AI-generated paleoart is a form of copyright theft, as it incorporates the work of real paleoartists without their permission or input. This raises the risk of pushing skilled artists out of the field, threatening their livelihoods and undermining their contributions to scientific understanding. Moreover, AI-generated paleoart can deceive the reading public by presenting scientifically inaccurate depictions of ancient creatures. This can undermine the role of traditional paleoart in helping us conceptualize past worlds and their inhabitants accurately.

The Potential of AI in Science Communication

Despite the controversies surrounding the use of AI in paleoart, it is essential to recognize the broader potential of AI in science communication. AI has proven to be a valuable tool across various scientific disciplines, enabling astronomers to explore the cosmos and archaeologists to decipher ancient texts. It can assist in analyzing vast datasets, leading to faster scientific discoveries. In paleontology specifically, AI has been successfully used to segment CT-scans of dinosaur fossils and automate tasks such as categorizing plankton and speciating pollen grains in the fossil record. However, it is crucial to use AI responsibly and not rely solely on its analytical capabilities, as it may hinder the scientific process.

Guidelines for Ethical AI Use in Science Communication

To ensure the ethical use of AI in science communication, several principles should be followed. These include transparent disclosure and attribution of AI-generated content, verification and documentation of AI-generated data, and a focus on ethical and equitable guidelines for AI use. Additionally, continuous monitoring of AI’s impact in the scientific process and involving the public in decision-making can help maintain trust in science. These guidelines should apply to visual scientific communication, including paleoart, to ensure accuracy and transparency.

The Limitations of AI Artistry

While AI has shown promise in various scientific fields, it is still far from being a perfect tool. The infamous “rat dck” fiasco highlighted the difficulties AI image generation software can face in accurately depicting scientific illustrations. This incident emphasized the need for better quality control and review processes in AI-generated content, including scientific images. When it comes to paleoart, AI-generated images often misrepresent the creatures painstakingly recreated by paleontologists and illustrators. True paleoart requires a level of accuracy and scientific understanding that AI is currently unable to achieve.


AI has the potential to revolutionize the scientific world and enhance our understanding of the past and the universe. However, when it comes to paleoart, AI falls short in producing accurate and nuanced representations of ancient creatures. Paleoartists, with their unique blend of scientific knowledge and artistic interpretation, are irreplaceable in the field of paleoart. Ethical considerations, such as copyright protection and maintaining scientific accuracy, should guide the use of AI in visual scientific communication. As AI continues to evolve, it is crucial to strike a balance between its capabilities and the invaluable human touch that is inherent in paleoart.

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