1923 cartoon predicts 2023’s AI art generators

Enlarge / Excerpt of a 1923 cartoon that predicted a “cartoon dynamo” and “idea dynamo” that could create cartoon art automatically. The full cartoon is reproduced below. (credit: Paleofuture)

In 1923, an editorial cartoonist named H.T. Webster drew a humorous cartoon for the New York World newspaper depicting a fictional 2023 machine that would generate ideas and draw them as cartoons automatically. It presaged recent advancements in AI image synthesis, one century later, that actually can create artwork automatically.

The vintage cartoon carries the caption “In the year 2023 when all our work is done by electricity.” It depicts a cartoonist standing by his drawing table and making plans for social events while an “idea dynamo” generates ideas and a “cartoon dynamo” renders the artwork.

Interestingly, this separation of labor feels similar to our neural networks of today. In the actual 2023, the “idea dynamo” would likely be a large language model like GPT-3 (albeit imperfectly), and the “cartoon dynamo” is most similar to an image-synthesis model like Stable Diffusion.

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