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AI: The Death of Art?

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Since the beginning of this year, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has gone from a topic mostly found in science fiction to an exciting, or even terrifying, reality. The hype-train for AI is hurtling forward, and I don’t know when it will stop. If ever.

I have followed the development of AI from the corner of my eye for many years. I remember being a bored kid on the internet and chatting with rudimentary chat bots over a decade ago. These chat bots were fun to play around with. And, admittedly, troll until their programming broke down. But they did break down.

Two years ago, I played around with an AI art generator. I even posted an article with the results when I asked it to produce artwork for the Katverse. Things have changed since then. Now, Wombo Dream is not even really spoken about. MidJourney has been churning out incredibly impressive images. I’ve even found many less discerning people posting these images on FB groups, thinking they’re real photos.

And then there’s ChatGPT. The big kid on the block. ChatGPT is a language processing AI. Effectively, a chat bot like the ones I used to play around with as a kid. Except, it’s smart. Really smart. And its ability to process information and communicate is astounding. Even, terrifying. Not in that SkyNet, destroy all humans, sort of way. But in that: are we going to become redundant, sort of way.

Shifting Problems with AI

AI has existed in some way or form for ages. For the last decade, you will have encountered AI in some form. The most notorious of this in a recent while is the handing over of customer service jobs to AI. I’ve faced many problems and frustrations dealing with dumb AI moderators on Facebook and elsewhere.

At this time, my fear was that AI would replace humans without actually being competent enough to do so. This was already leading to frustration when trying to sort out problems with Facebook moderation or reaching tech support to solve a basic error.

But now, with the rising competence of AI, my concerns are changing.

I am not truly worried that AI will replace humans entirely. Some jobs will be diminished and phased out. This is what happens with technology. Economist Joseph Schumpeter called it “Creative Destruction”.

The basic idea is that creativity, innovation and invention in the economy will always lead to disruption and destruction of old ways in favour of newer technologies and innovations. Jobs are lost as they become obsolete. But history has proven, so far, that they will always be replaced by something else.

Imagine all the farriers who lost their jobs as the world transitioned to automobiles? There are still farriers today, but not nearly as much as in the past. But we don’t miss the glut of farriers. They have been replaced by mechanics.

There is a risk in being a luddite. In fearing new technologies far too much. And I do believe that AI can be a very useful tool that could serve humanity well. From fulfilling roles as a research assistant to labs researching terminal illnesses, to speeding up the work of desk workers who will no longer need to menially churn through data – instead becoming AI prompters.

AI could go a long way to help us fill roles that we are either not good at, or don’t want to fulfil ourselves.

So, why then does it seem that one of the primary purposes of AI at the moment seem to be to replace jobs that we actually find fun?

Why automate art?

Artists and writers, myself among them, have become despondent over the past few months as the hype around AI has mostly centred around rendering us redundant. In the past, hypothetical AI has never been a threat to artists. First, because creativity seemed beyond the grasp of a computer. And secondly: because why would it?

Why automate art? We enjoy doing it! Illustrating, fine art, graphic design and writing are not lucrative industries. I don’t write because I want to be rich. If money was my concern, I’d get a real job. All I ask is that I can sell enough to sustain a path that fulfils me, and that I hope provides fulfilment for my readers.

But, with the advent of AI written fiction, and the rising dominance of AI artwork, creative professions are being put in a precarious position. Not that we will be replaced. Never. This is something we do for fun and self-worth. But, our job may become increasingly harder to be sustainable.

I have tested AI to see if it is capable of writing fiction. In short form, it can be pretty impressive. Great prose, some creative imagery, and maybe even some fun ideas. But it does collapse under pressure and cliché as it progresses. This makes sense. The AI isn’t its own soul with its own lived experiences. It collates pre-existing texts and effectively mixes and matches them to produce a work.

And this is where we run into possibly the biggest ethical problem with AI…

Plagiarism

Because AI cannot create anything from scratch, it has to get its data and even its image sources from somewhere. And this isn’t in the same way that a human will take inspiration from something to make something new. The AI is literally lifting a piece of an image and transplanting it somewhere else. And most of the time, this is without the knowledge or consent of the artist.

This is a greyer area with writing, but it is clear that the AI is lifting text, phraseology and structures from other people’s work. But while this may not exactly be plagiarism – it is something else.

Hackneyed, soulless, cookie-cutter, automated fiction.

“But people should be allowed to like whatever they want!”

I hear people saying – conjuring up images of defending genre fiction against the pretentious tides of literature snobs. And it is a valid argument. Except, it may not be relevant here.

Art is Human

Art is essentially a human experience. It is how we connect. Cultures are formed around collective storytelling, around similar lived experiences, familiar imagery. Art is far more than just an image on a screen or words on a page. It is about human connection.

We don’t just love books like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, or films like Star Wars or the MCU, because we enjoyed the story. We enjoy that other people enjoyed it. That we can discuss the story and find people who also enjoyed it. That we can unite over our shared experience.

But more than that. Art allows us to truly peer into the soul of another person. To know some semblance of that person. When we read books by long dead authors, we aren’t just enjoying a story, we are speaking to a human who lived and died. A human whose experiences and soul are worth remembering.

Can the same be said about works produced by AI? A tool with no emotion, no experience. In simple terms: no soul.

Is it really art when it’s machine-stamped on an assembly line by a robot?

As things are often the case when discussing art – this is up for debate. And probably always will be.

What I do know is that, at least for now, the role of AI in art and writing has been largely demoralising and dangerous. The mass production of AI-written borderline plagiarism has cheapened writing and hurt writers. Not the established writers with their names out there. But new authors, just trying to have their stories heard.

My Policy on AI

So, as battle lines are drawn and authors decide their policies on AI, I want to make mine clear.

I think AI is a tremendously powerful tool that is here to stay. I believe it will be very useful and will become increasingly more useful. I also don’t think that regulating AI is possible, so discussions about that are useless.

Rather, as is the case with all things, we as humans must decide our own view on AI. Here are mine:

  • I will NOT be using AI to generate any official Katverse artwork, or for any of my future works. This means that covers, marketing graphics, and official illustrations will be human made. Illustrators and artists are talented individuals who deserve to be remunerated for their work. Not replaced by AI.
  • I will NOT be using AI to produce text for publication. I am a writer. I write. Getting a robot to write for me defeats the point.
  • I WILL be using AI as an assistant to help me with menial tasks. This means data analysis, and effectively acting as an advanced form of Google. This helps speed up my research and means I can focus more time on being creative.

I have been discouraged lately by the influx of AI-written works by greedy businessmen trying to churn out subpar works for a quick buck. I don’t think what they’re doing is smart or moral. There are far better jobs to get if your entire purpose in publishing is money.

At the end of the day, writing is a relationship between an author and a reader. And I hope that my readers value that relationship. I will keep on writing, even if people try to replace me with an AI. And, when that day comes, I hope that readers will have my back.