OpenAI’s new DALL-E model draws anything — but bigger, better and faster than before


Image Credits: OpenAI

Early last year OpenAI showed off a remarkable new AI model called DALL-E (a combination of WALL-E and Dali), capable of drawing nearly anything and in nearly any style. But the results were rarely something you’d want to hang on the wall. Now DALL-E 2 is out, and it does what its predecessor did much, much better — scarily well, in fact. But the new capabilities come with new restrictions to prevent abuse.

DALL-E was described in detail in our original post on it, but the gist is that it is able to take quite complex prompts, such as “A bear riding a bicycle through a mall, next to a picture of a cat stealing the Declaration of Independence.” It would gladly comply, and out of hundreds of outputs find the most likely to meet the user’s standards.

DALL-E 2 does the same thing fundamentally, turning a text prompt into a surprisingly accurate image. But it has learned a few new tricks.

First, it’s just plain better at doing the original thing. The images that come out the other end of DALL-E 2 are several times bigger and more detailed. It’s actually faster despite producing more imagery, meaning more variations can be spun out in the handful of seconds a user might be willing to wait.

“A sea otter in the style of Girl with a Pearl Earring” turns out pretty good. Image Credits: OpenAI

Part of that improvement comes from a switch to a diffusion model, a type of image creation that starts with pure noise and refines the image over time, repeatedly making it a little more like the image requested until there’s no noise left at all. But it’s also just a smaller and more efficient model, some of the engineers who worked on it told me.

Second, DALL-E does what they call “inpainting,” essentially smart replacement of a given area in an image. Say you have a picture of your place but there are some dirty dishes on the table. Simply select that area and describe what you want instead: “an empty wooden table,” or “a table without dishes on it,” whatever seems logical. In seconds, the model will show you a handful of interpretations of that prompt, and you can pick whatever looks best.

You may be familiar with something similar in Photoshop, “context-aware fill.” But that tool is more for filling in a space with more of the same, like if you want to replace a bird in an otherwise clear sky and don’t want to bother with clone stamping. DALL-E 2’s capabilities are much greater, able to invent new things, for example a different kind of bird, or a cloud, or in the case of the table, a vase of flowers or a spilled bottle of ketchup. It’s not hard to imagine useful applications for this.

Notably, the model will include things like appropriate lighting and shadows, or choose correct materials, since it’s aware of the rest of the scene. I use “aware” loosely here — no one, not even its creators, knows how DALL-E represents these concepts internally, but what matters for these purposes is that the results suggest that it has some form of understanding.

Examples of teddy bears in an ukiyo-e style and a quaint flower shop. Image Credits: OpenAI

The third new capability is “variations,” which is accurate enough: You give the system an example image and it generates as many variations on it as you like, from very close approximations to impressionistic redos. You can even give it a second image and it will sort of cross-pollinate them, combining the most salient aspects of each. The demo they showed me had DALL-E 2 generating street murals based on an original, and it really did capture the artist’s style for the most part, even if it was probably clear on inspection which was the original.

It’s hard to overstate the quality of these images compared with other generators I’ve seen. Although there are almost always the kinds of “tells” you expect from AI-generated imagery, they’re less obvious and the rest of the image is way better than the best generated by others.

Almost anything

I wrote that DALL-E 2 can draw “almost anything” before, though there’s not really any technical limitation that would prevent the model from convincingly drawing anything you can come up with. But OpenAI is conscious of the risk presented by deepfakes and other misuses of AI-generated imagery and content, and so has added some restrictions for their latest model.

DALL-E 2 runs on a hosted platform for now, an invite-only test environment where developers can try it out in a controlled way. Part of that means that all their prompts for the model are evaluated for violations of a content policy that prohibits, as they put it, “images that are not G-rated.”

That means no: hate, harassment, violence, self-harm, explicit or “shocking” imagery, illegal activities, deception (e.g., fake news reports), political actors or situations, medical or disease-related imagery, or general spam. In fact much of this won’t be possible as violating imagery was excluded from the training set: DALL-E 2 can do a shiba inu in a beret, but it doesn’t even know what a missile strike is.

In addition to prompts being evaluated, the resultant imagery will all (for now) be reviewed by human inspectors. That’s obviously not scalable, but the team told me that this is part of the learning process. They’re not sure exactly how the boundaries should work, which is why they’re keeping the platform small and self-hosted for now.

In time DALL-E 2 will likely be turned into an API that can be called like OpenAI’s other functions, but the team said they want to be sure that’s wise before taking the training wheels off.

You can learn more about DALL-E 2 and test out some semi-interactive examples over at the OpenAI blog post.

More TechCrunch

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

18 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies