I'm fascinated by anything futuristic and speculative, so the AI mania going on this year has been a lot of fun. But like pretty much everyone, and especially artists, I'm still coming to grips with the implications. I find there are two very different strands to my thinking about generative AI: one that despairs at the cheap, corporate, generated crap flooding our lives, and another that is gobsmacked by all the neat new toys and amazing potential.
Hoping to arrive at a unified, principled approach to these matters, I put pen to pixel and wrote my problems and questions in the form of a conversation between these two strands of my thought, whom I have dubbed Humanist D.D. and Futurist D.D.
Humanist D.D.: I've been thinking about AI-generated content a lot lately. It's not really creative, is it? I mean, yes, it can produce new things, but it's just following patterns and formulas that it's learned from human-made works.
Futurist D.D.: Well, isn't that what humans do too? We learn from the works of others and build on them. I think AI is just another tool, like a paintbrush. Ultimately, it's still the human hand that crafts the prompt and guides the AI.
Humanist D.D.: But there's a difference! A human artist brings their own experiences, emotions, and perspectives to their work. An AI doesn't have that—it's just regurgitating what it's learned.
Futurist D.D.: That's technically correct, but you're missing the potential of AI-assisted content. AI tools can enhance our creativity by offering new ideas that a person might not think of on their own.
Humanist D.D.: Pffft. Maybe. I'm not so sure. Those ideas come from the training set! And the quality of AI-generated content is crap more often than not. It's built on training data, which means it's limited by the foundation it's given. It can't truly break new ground or push boundaries. It's a glorified blender for ideas and images.
Futurist D.D.: Well, that's where human-AI collaboration comes in. Different degrees of human input can help guide AI to produce higher-quality content. Think of it as a way to boost human creativity.
Humanist D.D.: Collaboration? Dude! If AI is just a paintbrush, aren't you creating, not co-creating? And where do we draw the line between AI-generated content and human input? If we rely too much on AI, are we losing the essence of what makes art human? Are you "collaborating" with the people whose content is in the training data?
Futurist D.D.: Please. Melodramatic much? Protecting the works of artists who use AI is protecting human creativity. It's about adapting and growing with the technology, not being left behind. I concede that there are serious problems with consent and attribution. I think those developing fully open-source/licensed/consensual datasets are on the right path. I expect we'll see a lot more of that.
Humanist D.D.: You're awfully optimistic about AI's potential for creativity. What about the value of human-made works? Surely there's something unique in art created solely by humans.
Futurist D.D.: I'm not denying that there's value in 100% human-made works. Of course, there is. But we should judge material based on its merits, not the method by which it was created. Let's be honest, humans create plenty of content that, well, sucks.
Humanist D.D.: That's for sure. Not liking the "ends-justify-the-means" argument you are flirting with there, though. And I don't believe in the emotional depth of AI-generated content. Can AI truly capture the complexity of human emotions and experiences?
Futurist D.D.: Maybe not. Fine, for the sake of argument, no. But that doesn't mean we should dismiss it altogether. Collaboration between humans and AI can lead to works with emotional content that might not have been possible otherwise.
Humanist D.D.: Quit saying "collaboration," it's creepy. You sound like middle-management. And innovation is important, but there's something to be said for the ongoing importance of human ingenuity in the creative process.
Futurist D.D.: Absolutely, and I don't think AI will ever completely replace humans in that regard. But by embracing AI as a tool, we gain so much and can focus on the ideas at the heart of our creations.
Humanist D.D.: I'm not sure there's a way for our viewpoints to co-exist in one person. At the least, we'd be conflicted, at the worst, flat-out hypocritical.
Futurist D.D.: God damn it.
Humanist D.D.: God damn it.