Monday, January 29, 2024

Of Art and the Machine

When I listen to creatives raising the alarm about artificial intelligence, there's a consistent theme.  

Looking at what the LLMs (ChatGPT/Bard) can write, and the images produced by diffusion systems (Dall E/Midjourney), there's been a terrifying surge in machine capacity in the last five years.  We're now at full Turing compliance for Generative Transformers, meaning that we've blithely skipped over the threshold that twentieth century AI pioneer Alan Turing established for determining the presence of synthetic intelligence.  There is no reason that machines couldn't soon do every form of work requiring awareness, other than that we're restraining them.

As it so happens, the first place that seems to be having an impact is the arts.

It's to the point where writers have begun to feel that their livelihoods are threatened, because they are.  Machine intelligence is great at burping out new content, and can do so at a hundred times the pace of human writers.  Almost all of the writing for the internet content mills, with their lazy listicles and corporately sourced content?  They could be done by AI.  This is equally true of most of the derivative romance novels out there, and the plot of every film in the Fast and Furious franchise.

Commercial artists are doubly threatened, because you can produce an image in seconds, and refine it in minutes, replicating the hours of focused labor necessary to make a single finished piece of visual art.

The image that accompanies this post is flawed, sure, but it took me a single minute to produce.  Just one prompt to Dall E, then another, and then I was like, eh, sure.  That one'll do.  For a graphic designer, that'd take days.

If writers and artists think their livelihoods are threatened, it's only because they are.  In a capitalist economy, AI means artists and writers can no longer expect to make a living through their work.

Which, I think, is the point we creative souls are all missing.  Writers and artists are seeing this through the wrong lens, seeing it as we have been trained to see it. 

AI isn't the problem.  Capitalism is.

There's nothing about AI that prevents me from doing what I love, from creating and sharing what I create.  The joy of writing is a human joy, and while I am slower at it than a machine, I still love to write.  The act itself is part of who I am.  

But we have been taught to view art as a commodity, as part of a system of economic exchange, as something that derives value only insofar as it can be marketized.

That understanding won't survive an AI era.

But then again, neither will capitalism.