Testing AI Tools: Playground AI

With the "Deus Ex Mach­ina? — Test­ing AI Tools"-series we want to show you dif­fer­ent tools, that aim to sim­pli­fy writ­ing, design and research by using Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence. More on the "Deus Ex Machina?"-series can be found here.

A con­tri­bu­tion by Helena Bodem (study pro­gram Sci­ence-Media-Com­mu­nic­a­tion, KIT Karlsruhe)


The digit­al tool Play­ground AI (playgroundai.com) is an image gen­er­at­or that provides an easy way for both non-experts and exper­i­enced users to cre­ate and edit images. At the heart of the tool is a "text to image" AI that allows users to gen­er­ate images or modi­fy exist­ing images using spe­cif­ic text instruc­tions (prompts). Because a "text to image" gen­er­a­tion leaves a lot of room for ran­dom res­ults, anoth­er text input is pos­sible below the prompt field: the so-called "neg­at­ive prompts", which can be used to expli­citly exclude cer­tain fea­tures or ele­ments from the image generation.

A range of pos­sible fil­ters and con­trols can be used to fine-tune the image gen­er­a­tion. How­ever, since the under­ly­ing effects are not intu­it­ively access­ible, it is advis­able, espe­cially for non-pro­fes­sion­als, to stay with­in the stand­ard set­tings for the time being. Espe­cially at the begin­ning, users may be over­whelmed by the vari­ety of res­ults: even if you simply leave the same text prompt and click on "Gen­er­ate" sev­er­al times, the tool pro­duces dif­fer­ent image inter­pret­a­tions. Users can also upload their own pho­tos and modi­fy them with the AI. Both an exist­ing and a gen­er­ated image can be edited by mask­ing parts of the image and chan­ging masked objects or adding new objects via "Edit Instruction".

Any­one who wants to use the tool needs a Google account. In the free basic ver­sion, up to 1000 images per day can be gen­er­ated or edited. The images gen­er­ated in this way can not only be down­loaded, but also scaled up in qual­ity. While Play­ground AI allows users to use the images for private and com­mer­cial pur­poses, copy­right and eth­ic­al issues remain with this image gen­er­at­or as well.

The AI behind the application

The tech­no­logy that powers Play­ground AI is based on vari­ous ver­sions of the Stable Dif­fu­sion AI mod­el. Its name is derived from the com­pany name Sta­bil­ity AI, which was instru­ment­al in the devel­op­ment of Stable Dif­fu­sion. Sta­bil­ity AI inves­ted sig­ni­fic­ant amounts of GPU com­put­ing power to enable the train­ing of this mod­el. Although there are vari­ous "text to image" AI mod­els, with Dall‑E prob­ably being the most prom­in­ent, Stable Dif­fu­sion stands out in that it is the only one of its kind to have been pub­lished in open source format: The mod­el is com­pletely open to pub­lic scru­tiny and can be mod­i­fied by the developer community.

In its mode of oper­a­tion, Stable Dif­fu­sion uses the prin­ciple of dif­fu­sion, whereby images are mod­i­fied by repeatedly adding Gaus­si­an noise, i.e., the pixels of an image are blurred until it con­sists only of dif­fer­ent col­oured spots or dots. The AI mod­el is then trained to recon­struct the "noisy" image, cre­at­ing a vari­ation of the ori­gin­al image.

In order for "text to image" AIs to gen­er­ate the most diverse images pos­sible, a large set of train­ing data is needed. In the case of Stable Dif­fu­sion, a data set known as LAION 5B was used. It con­tains an impress­ive 5.8 bil­lion HTML links to cor­res­pond­ing image-text pairs. How­ever, in cre­at­ing this set, little con­sid­er­a­tion was giv­en to con­tent rat­ing, copy­right or pri­vacy of the images. For example, one artist dis­covered med­ic­al images in the set that had been taken of her before and after an oper­a­tion. The artist now has little chance of hav­ing these images deleted. Accord­ing to LAION's terms and con­di­tions, own­ers of images can only request the dele­tion of links from the set if iden­ti­fi­able data can be found on the linked images, e.g., name, tele­phone num­ber or address.

(Fur­ther inform­a­tion on eth­ic­al and leg­al con­flicts can be found in the sec­tion "Usage in sci­ence com­mu­nic­a­tion" and in the info box).

The rhetorical potential of the tool

People with cre­at­ive and design back­grounds are likely to be par­tic­u­larly attrac­ted to Play­ground AI. How­ever, the tool's abil­ity to quickly visu­al­ize ideas and make adjust­ments to images without pri­or know­ledge of pro­fes­sion­al edit­ing pro­grams also makes it inter­est­ing for a broad­er audience.

How­ever, it should be emphas­ised that Play­ground AI is not com­pletely intu­it­ive to use. For­mu­lat­ing an effect­ive text prompt requires prac­tice. For effect­ive prompt­ing, it is advis­able to use "tags", short image descrip­tions that usu­ally con­sist of one or two words and are strung togeth­er sep­ar­ated by semi­colons. There are also a vari­ety of fil­ters, adjust­ment para­met­ers and edit­ing options to help refine the res­ults. This can be over­whelm­ing for begin­ners at first.

A char­ac­ter­ist­ic fea­ture of "text to image" mod­els is a high ran­dom factor when gen­er­at­ing images. This is par­tic­u­larly evid­ent when using Play­ground AI: users can press the "Gen­er­ate" but­ton repeatedly without chan­ging the set­tings or prompt, and still get dif­fer­ent res­ults each time. In fact, the res­ults are so var­ied that one quickly wants to move on to vary­ing a par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing image. Cre­at­ing vari­ations of a par­tic­u­lar image is pos­sible, for example, via the gen­er­a­tion num­ber of an image, the so-called seed. (In the user inter­face "Board" there is even a select­able action for this).

Anoth­er annoy­ance is that the tool seems to have dif­fi­culties with the gen­er­a­tion of spe­cial details such as fin­gers and toes. How­ever, to fix this and sim­il­ar issues, Play­ground AI provides some lengthy You­Tube tutorials.

The tool has two user inter­faces — Board and Can­vas — which are quite sim­il­ar in func­tion­al­ity but have dif­fer­ent emphases for use. While Can­vas is par­tic­u­larly suit­able for gen­er­at­ing images in quick suc­ces­sion, Board is optim­al for cre­at­ing vari­ations of an already cre­ated image.

Image 2: Play­ground AI: Can­vas user interface
Image 3: Play­ground AI: Board User Interface

An import­ant note about the board: here, images are auto­mat­ic­ally shared with the com­munity unless the share func­tion is dis­abled before gen­er­a­tion. This set­ting must be re-set before each use.

Usage in science communication

Dur­ing a self-test the pos­sib­il­it­ies and lim­it­a­tions of the tool became evid­ent. Play­ground AI proved use­ful for design­ing a cov­er image for a journ­al­ist­ic art­icle on arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. A simple prompt like "Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence" com­bined with vari­ous fil­ters and set­tings quickly deliv­ers innov­at­ive image con­cepts. With adjus­ted prompt input and cor­rect image ratio, an appeal­ing res­ult can be achieved.

Ein Robotergesicht mit menschlichen Zügen ist abgebildet. Die Seiten des Kopfes sind geöffnet, es ragen Kabel aus dem Schädel die in den Hintergrund übergehen und dort ein Muster aus technischen Verbindungen bilden.
Image 4: Image gen­er­ated with Play­ground AI for an art­icle about arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.

Prompt: Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence, Intel­li­gence, inter­est­ing, con­nec­tions, illus­tra­tion, art­icle
Neg­at­ive Prompt: human, human face, dis­turb­ing, noise, too much detail

In con­trast, the attempt to cre­ate a simple dia­gram with four labels failed. Although there are prob­ably ways to give the tool more pre­cise instruc­tions, the high ran­dom­iz­a­tion factor in image gen­er­a­tion by Play­ground AI still stands in the way of cre­at­ing accur­ate dia­grams. And what about sci­entif­ic rep­res­ent­a­tions? For example, is it pos­sible to gen­er­ate a micro­scop­ic view of the bird flu vir­us? Even though the vir­us has already been extens­ively researched, the pro­ject proved dif­fi­cult without a con­crete image template.

Sechs Bilder sind nebeneinander aufgereiht, alle generiert mit dem prompt "bird flu virus". In den meisten Bildern ist ein Virus abgebildet, wie man ihn unter dem Mikroskop sehen kann. In manchen Bilder ist der Viruskern in Vogelform abgebildet, in den beiden mittleren Bildern sind Zeichnungen von Hühnern neben den Mikroben eingefügt.
Image 5: Attempt to gen­er­ate a micro­scop­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion of the bird flu vir­us with Play­ground AI.

Prompt: bird flu vir­us, Avi­an influ­enza, vir­us, struc­ture, sci­ence, micro­scope, sci­entif­ic, microscopic

Of course, sci­ence com­mu­nic­a­tion does not only take place via art­icles and sci­entif­ic papers. Social media plat­forms are also import­ant dis­tri­bu­tion tools. Here, col­or­ful images are often needed to attract the atten­tion of users. Espe­cially for this pur­pose, the tool quickly deliv­ers prom­ising results.

Image 6: For each image, only the fil­ter used was changed (fil­ters, from left to right: None, Bella's Dreamy Stick­ers, Macro Real­ism, Eth­er­e­al Low poly, Dream­shaper).

Prompt: sci­ence, com­mu­nic­a­tion
Neg­at­ive Prompt: bad illus­tra­tion, dis­pro­por­tioned, kitsch, morbid

Good to know: Since the AI mod­el Stable Dif­fu­sion was trained with images of 512 x 512, Play­ground AI gen­er­ates par­tic­u­larly good images in this aspect ratio. For image series, it is there­fore advis­able to leave the pre­set height and length at 512 and to sub­sequently upscale selec­ted images (right-click > "Upscale by 4x").

If you are now hold­ing your self-gen­er­ated images in your hands, you are prob­ably ask­ing your­self ques­tions about image rights and use. In the FAQs (as of 04.09.2023), Play­ground AI gives a gen­er­ous answer to the ques­tion "How does copy­right work? Do I own the images I cre­ate?": All rights, titles and interests in the images cre­ated are left to the users — both for private and com­mer­cial purposes.

How­ever, the mat­ter is presen­ted in a more dif­fer­en­ti­ated way in the terms of use. Here, Play­ground AI, as well as its leg­al suc­cessors and agents, reserves far-reach­ing rights of use. This extends not only to con­tent gen­er­ated with the tool, but also to any images con­trib­uted by users. Fur­ther­more, those who fail to cre­ate their images in a private mode (which must be done again at the begin­ning of each board ses­sion) also grant oth­er mem­bers of the plat­form a non-exclus­ive licence to use them.

The case of DeviantArt case: Ethical conflicts with AI-generated art

Devi­antArt, a pop­u­lar plat­form among art cre­at­ors, came into the spot­light when it intro­duced a "text to image" tool called "DreamUp". The prob­lem was that Devi­antArt auto­mat­ic­ally marked all the art­works of its users as usable for AI records. In addi­tion, some of the AI-gen­er­ated images had strik­ing sim­il­ar­it­ies to exist­ing art­works. A group of art cre­at­ors joined togeth­er in a class action law­suit for copy­right infringe­ment, and the Devi­antArt case sparked a heated debate about the eth­ic­al lim­its of AI in the art field: can tech­no­logy really be cre­at­ive if it merely mod­i­fies the intel­lec­tu­al prop­erty of others?

What this means in con­crete terms: Any­one who feeds their own image into the tool, e.g. as a tem­plate or for edit­ing, should always be sure that they own the cor­res­pond­ing rights to it. Because you have to reck­on with the fact that Play­ground AI will con­tin­ue to use this image. In addi­tion, Play­ground AI makes it clear in its terms of use that users them­selves are respons­ible for their activ­it­ies and points out that gen­er­ated images may unin­ten­tion­ally resemble pro­tec­ted images. So in prac­tice, it is prob­ably advis­able to at least do a Google Image search before using a gen­er­ated image for pub­lic­a­tion purposes.

It should also be borne in mind that, as things stand, it is still very uncer­tain wheth­er copy­right or copy­rights can be claimed for AI-gen­er­ated images. In the US, courts have already rejec­ted copy­right claims. So while com­mer­cial use is unlikely to be a prob­lem, it may be dif­fi­cult to take leg­al action if anoth­er per­son uses one's AI-gen­er­ated work.


"Play­ground AI" deliv­ers what its name prom­ises: it offers a cre­at­ive play­ground where users can try their hand at words and set­tings to their heart's con­tent to quickly get visu­ally appeal­ing res­ults. But the ini­tial euphor­ia can quickly turn into frus­tra­tion if the desired res­ult seems unat­tain­able. Par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of sci­ence com­mu­nic­a­tion, where accur­acy and pre­ci­sion are para­mount, Play­ground AI has its lim­it­a­tions and is more suit­able for cre­at­ing dec­or­at­ive accessories.

Fur­ther research on the tool evokes mixed feel­ings: On the one hand, it is motiv­at­ing to push Play­ground AI to get even bet­ter res­ults through improved prompts and more pre­cise set­tings. On the oth­er hand, one quickly comes across inform­a­tion that images were used for the tool's AI whose cre­at­ors neither agreed to nor were paid for them to be used.