The AI Revolution Begins and Ends with You

Article image via CC BY 2.0

The coming wave of AI creators has the creative community on edge. Artists, writers, and performers are understandably worried our robot overlords will subvert the creative process, take human jobs, and generally make artists’ lives miserable.

What’s really happening though is society is being forced to re-evaluate what constitutes art.

Humanity’s creative endeavors are unique. Born from a uniquely individual existence, experience, and perspective, these can absolutely be classified as art.

AI mimics this product like a Xerorx machine low on toner. Sure, they’ll capture the exact image, but it’ll have streaks. Fuzzy edges. Tell-tale fingerprints of the mechanical processes used to create the duplicate.

And just because algorithms have gotten so complex as to be able to seamlessly blend different images together, doesn’t mean they’re “creating” art.

AI can only create art if we collectively decide that it can. If that happens, it doesn’t mean the Singularity has suddenly sprung into existence. It means we humans have gotten lazy.

In the digital age, we’ve been taught to believe that the churning of content, written or otherwise, is a necessity. That we must have news twenty-four hours a day. We must have eternal streams of programming. We must have endless vaults of photographs. Blog posts published every second of every minute of every hour about every conceivable topic.

(Like this one I suppose…)

We’ve also been conditioned to believe anonymous feeds of text provide meaningful human interactions.

That frenetic environment has, in part, led to a democratization of art. It has helped break up stale, non-diverse perspectives. Allowed a whole generation of people to be writers and photographers and publishers and homemade celebrities without gatekeepers and calcified ideals barring the way.

That’s the good.

But that same sudden freedom has also led to a spectacular glut of content. Pay for this content is cheap. The results? Cheaper still.

And if that’s the new normal? AI wins, no question.

When quantity over quality is the rule of the day, you can bet AI will dominate our artistic future. It doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t eat. It doesn’t agonize over word choice. Hell, it doesn’t even worry whether it’s factual and accurate (okay, so we’ve gotten terrible at that skill too). It simply spews content into the void.

I know, I know, the counterargument is that we’ve always been inundated by subpar content. People can produce it too.

And I agree. In fact, I’d argue only a person can produce truly abysmal dreck. An AI, at least, can consistently ride the line of mediocrity.

But this particular moment in history is supremely different. At no other time have humans carried a pocket-sized machine linked to a near infinite pool of content.

Content often served to us in ways that prey on our worst impulses of addiction and anger. Content created and destroyed by the whims of voracious algorithms tirelessly skimming for the next viral moment. All backed by an anonymity that has us believing we’re the experts, or that the rando who posted a link must be on to something big.

Combine all that misdirection and angst and you get to the root of the issue:

AI isn’t gearing up to take our jobs. It’s training us to believe algorithms can do the work we do.

(And not in a SkyNet sense. There is no consciousness aside from the coders behind the curtain and their intentional or unintentional design.)

AI generated content does pose more than philosophical challenges. Corporations being given free license to steal performers’ identities (voices and likeness) will be a massive problem. So I see greater turmoil over future contracts than over autonomous AI wresting control of the marketplace from human creators.

But forgery, identity theft, and copyright infringement have long been illegal. Updates to these laws need to reflect the current state of technological advancement. With any luck, that’s a legislative problem, not an existential crisis.

As far as writing goes, I’m happy to hand over the “content creation” jobs to AI. Truly formulaic genres might also find themselves in peril. Then again, human audiences will be the ultimate critics. Will they be okay with subroutines masquerading as plots?

We’re the only ones who can answer that question. Due to sheer complacency, artists could lose the fight I suppose. AI is relentless. Humans? If we’re being honest, we’re lazy.

That once more brings the onus back to us.

If we want to become the kind of quasi-sentient beings force-fed art without even a little chewing, so be it. Who may or may not be being paid is the least of our problems then.

The solution?

We can close our browsers every so often. Shut off our phones. Look away from the deluxe Skinner box. Live a life of awareness, not one steeped in information overload masquerading as “intelligence”. Engage in honest introspection about what we value, what society should value, and pursue those things above all else.

My guess is that doesn’t include art produced by AI.

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