Editorial: My Experience with a Premium Plus Account in Second Life—and I Discover a Hidden Benefit!

Yes, I admit it: I am deliberately escaping the anxiety and depression caused by my reaction to the pain, heartache, chaos, cruelty, despair, and conflict of the real world, by escaping to my favourite metaverse: Second Life! (Hey, don’t judge; we all have our quirky little hobbies to help keep us sane in these trying times.) Also, as one of the first 30,000 people (as of June 23rd, 2022) to join the closed beta test of the AI-generated art tool DALL-E 2 by OpenAI, I have been avidly trying out various prompts, such as the following:

I do plan to write more about AI-generated art in general (and DALL-E 2 in particular), as well as share some more art I have created since I joined the beta, in a later editorial blogpost, but first, Second Life! Priorities, people!!! 😉

After discovering, much to my surprise, that it was less expensive to change the legacy name of one of my alts by upgrading from Basic to Premium Plus rather than Premium, I decided to put this new concierge service to the test! I am quite happy to report that the Change my Name concierge service request was responded to promptly, efficiently, and politely, via a text-chat support ticket, and one US$15.00 charge on my credit card later, hey presto!, meet Ryan Blakewell (whose original legacy name was along the lines of the rather uninspiring Ryan-something-random Resident):

The rechristened Ryan Blakewell is wearing the Sacha full-body mesh avatar by EXMACHINA, a store which appears to have gone out of business—but the Signature Gianni version of this dark blue Ewan casual suit by Vagrant, which I picked using with the two gifts of free store credit and their 50% Off Sale, fits him very well!

And then it struck me: I actually have an alt who has can upload an unlimited number of images for free! And, of course, once uploaded, images can be shared between avatars for free. So I have embarked on a project which is long, long overdue—taking pictures of the hundreds of outfits in the extensive wardrobe of my main SL avatar, Vanity Fair! I had wanted to do it before, but the L$10-per-texture charge would have added up to thousands of Linden dollars to document Vanity’s many and varied outfits which I have created over the years.

In Firestorm, all you have to do is click on the Appearance button (a T-shirt icon), then select the Outfit Gallery tab. Images must be 256 by 256 pixels in size, but you can use any image manipulation program to resize your in-world screen captures (I used to use Paint.net, but now I prefer to use the free online Photopea app; both feature the Adobe PhotoShop-like interface with which I am already familiar).

Selecting an 256×256 image to add to my Outfit Gallery

Now, I’m not planning on staying a Premium Plus member forever (at least, not on Ryan Blakewell’s account). I really only did it for the cheaper legacy name change on that avatar, and for no other reason. But, at the 45-day mark, I will collect my L$3,000 signup bonus, and I will either upgrade Ryan Blakewell to Belleza Jake mesh body (Belleza is holding an extended 50%-Off Sale on both male and feamle bodies), or transfer the bonus to another alt to use there. The L$650-a-week stipend is also nice, too! So I just might hold onto the Premium Plus account for 2 or 3 months.

However, I can think of no better use of the perks of Premium Plus at the moment than to create an free outfit gallery for my main avatar, Vanity Fair:

Vanity Fair’s Outfit Gallery

Tomorrow is Canada Day (Canada’s version of July 4th), and I plan to spend the long weekend, and my vacation next week, working on my new project! The perfect plan to avoid social media and the news media in a world gone mad—at least for a little while.

I’d be very interested in hearing from other Second Life users who have opted to upgrade to Premium Plus. How has the process been for you? What do you like about it? Have you encountered any problems? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks! I think I’m going to quite like Premium Plus!

UPDATED! Dallying with DALL-E 2: My First Three Days Testing Out AI-Generated Art from Text Prompts (and Some Resulting Images!)

I know this post is off-topic, but I do hope you will indulge me! Today I checked my email and discovered that I have been among the first few lucky people to be accepted into the testing phase of DALL-E 2!

What is DALL-E 2? DALL·E 2 is a new AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. Here’s a two-minute video that explains the concept:

Vox has released a 13-minute YouTube video that explains the concept behind DALL-E 2 and related AI-generated art systems in more detail:

DALL-E 2 is a significant step up from the original DALL-E system, promising more realistic and accurate images with four times greater resolution! It can combine artistic concepts, attributes, and styles, as well as make realistic edits to existing images. It can also create variations of an image based on the original.

UPDATE June 23rd: According to its creators, who participated in an AMA session on the r/dalle2 subReddit, DALL-E 2 was trained using roughly 650,000,000 images along with their captions. These images were either licensed or publicly available on the internet.

So today, in my first day using DALL-E 2, I decided to put it through its paces, and I discovered some of the strengths—and weaknesses—of the AI program, from OpenAI.

First, I wanted to see what it could do with a selfie from Second Life of my main avatar, Vanity Fair.

I uploaded a picture and clicked on the Variations button, and it generated what looked like reasonable Second Life avatars with slight changes to the original, as if I had fiddled with the face sliders and tried on different wigs:

Then, I wanted to try erasing the background of the image, and using it with a text prompt: “Vanity Fair wearing a ballgown in a highly-realistic Regency Era ballroom with elegant dancers”.

Among the results I got back were these:

I love how it gave Vanity elf ears in the second picture! Then, I decided to erase the background from a shot of my main male SL avatar, Heath Homewood:

The text prompt I gave DALL-E 2 to fill in the erased area was “man in a highly detailed photograph of an elaborate steampunk landscape with airships and towers”. Here are five of the six results it spit back at me (please click on each image to see it in a larger size):

The backgrounds are all quite varied, and also quite intricate in some cases! I also noticed that the AI “augmented” Heath Homewood’s hair in some of the pictures, while it left it alone in others. Innnteresting…..

My next prompt, “smiling man wearing a virtual reality headset with a fantasy metaverse background very colourful and clean detailed advertising art”, also generated some astoundingly good results, any of which could easily be used in a magazine advertisement or article illustration! (Again, please click on the images to see them in full size.)

So, I continued. As my apartment patio looks out over a small forest known for its deer and rabbits, I decided to enter the same text prompt, “a lush green forest with deer and rabbits”, appending the text with an artistic style. In response to each prompt, I picked the best of the six pictures DALL-E 2 gave me back, along with the text prompts I used (in the captions below each picture).

A lush green forest with deer and rabbits digital art
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits impressionist art
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits by Johannes Verneer
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits by Salvafor Dali
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits by Andy Warhol
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits in the style of Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat
a lush green forest with deer and rabbits in the style of Inuit art
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits by Piet Mondrian
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits as a Disney cartoon
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits as a medieval tapestry
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits synthwave
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits cyberpunk
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits kawaii anime style (this wasn’t what I was expecting, but it’s so beautiful, like an illustration from a children’s book!)
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits chibi cartoon style
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits horror movie film still high quality
A lush green forest with deer and rabbits ancient Eqyptian carvings

While I am mightily impressed by these results, I did notice a few things. First, sometimes DALL-E 2 gave me a misshapen or mutated deer or rabbit, or even a mixture of a deer and a rabbit (and in one case, a deer merging into a tree!). Second, DALL-E 2 still seems to have a lot of trouble with faces, both of animals and of people (you can see this most clearly in the Disneyesque image above). In particular, you get terrible results when you put in the name of a real person, e.g. “Philip Rosedale wearing a crown and sitting on a throne in Second Life”, which gave some rather terrifying Frankenstein-looking versions of Philip that I will not share with you!

I did try “Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres dressed in Regency costumes in an episode of Bridgerton in Second Life”, and this is the best of the six results it spit back:

Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres dressed in Regency costumes in an episode of Bridgerton in Second Life

If you squint (a lot), you can just about make out the resemblances, but it’s very clear that presenting realistic human (or avatar!) faces is something DALL-E 2 is not really very good at yet. However, given how alarmingly quickly this technology has developed in a year (from DALL-E to DALL-E 2), the ability for AI-generated art to more accurately depict human faces realistically is probably not too far off…

However, the fact that you can already generate some amazing (if imperfect) art ahows the power of the technology,! This is AMAZING stuff.

But it also raises some rather unsettling questions. Will the realm of the professional human artist be supplanted by artificial intelligence? (More likely, tools like DALL-E 2 might be used as a prompt to inspire artists.) And, if so, what does that mean to other creative pursuits and jobs currently done by human beings? Will artists be out of a job, in much the same way as factory workers at Amazon are being replaced by robots?

Will we eventually have such realistic deep fake pictures and videos that they will be indistinguishable from unretouched shots filmed in real life? Are we going to reach the point where we can no longer distinguish what’s “real” from what’s AI-generated—or trust anything we see?

And how will all this impact the metaverse? (One metaverse platform, Sensorium Galaxy, is already experimenting with AI chatbots,)

So, like WOMBO and Reface (which I have writen about previously on this blog), DALL-E 2 is equal parts diverting and discomforting. But one thing is certain: I do plan to keep plugging text prompts into DALL-E 2, just to get a glimpse of where we’re going in this brave new world!

UPDATE June 23rd, 2022: I’ve spent the past couple of days playing around with DALL-E 2 a bit more, and I have discovered that, with the right kind of text prompts, you can generate some astoundingly photorealistic human profiles! Here are a couple of examples:

Prompt: “show the entire head and shoulders in a face forward picture of a handsome blonde man with blue eyes and a strong chin award winning photography 35mm realistic realism”
Prompt: “stunning breathtaking head and shoulders portrait of a beautiful African woman golden hour lighting. brilliant use of light and bokeh. Canon 85mm”

It doesn’t have to be a human, either; how about a wood nymph with green hair?

Prompt: “stunning breathtaking photo of a wood nymph with green hair and elf ears in a hazy forest at dusk. Dark, moody, eerie lighting, brilliant use of glowing light and shadow. Sigma 85mm f/1.4”

I’ve also dissocovered you can combine two or more artistic styles in one reault. Here are the six pictures DALL-E 2 spit back in response to the text prompt: “a cottage in a lush green forest with mountains in the background and a blue cloudy sky by Albert Bierstadt and Charles Victor Guilloux and Vilhelm Hammershøi” (please click on each picture to see it in a larger size):

However, there are also some prompts which fail miserably! For example, I tried to create an image using the text prompt: “steampunk gentleman in a top hat riding a penny farthing bicycle in a steampunk landscape with airships in the sky colorful digital art”, Here’s what I got back:

Here are four of those AI-generated pictures (click on each thumbnail to see a larger version):

It’s very clear that DALL-E 2 has no concept of what a penny farthing bicycle looks like! For your reference, here’s the results of a Google image search for the vehicle in question:

I assume that DALL-E 2 will get better the more images it is fed (including, hopefully, images of penny farthing bicycles!).

My last prompt yesterday was “Vogue fashion models eating cheeseburgers at MacDonalds”.

Now, while the thumbnails may look good, most of these pictures are nightmare material when you look at them full-size: mismatched, misshapen eyes, wonky face shapes, etc. Really uncanny valley stuff. In thumbnail number six, you can also clearly see that several of the Vogue fashion models have more than two hands!

So, while DALL-E 2 is certainly capable of generating stunning results, it is far from a perfect tool. I don’t think that human artists and designers have to worry about losing their jobs just yet! 😉

I leave you with this thought-provoking half-hour YouTube video by an industrial designer and professor named John Mauriello who claims, “with recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence design tools, we are about to see the biggest creative and cultural explosion since the invention of electricity in the 1890s.”

P.S. With my blogposts about AI tools such as WOMBO, Reface, and now DALL-E 2, plus my coverage of AI implementations of NPCs in social VR platforms such as Sensorium Galaxy, I decided it was time to create a new blogpost category called Artificial Intelligence (please give me a bit of time to go back and add this category to older blogposts, thanks!).