AI can create art that looks human. Whose fault is that?
This was the year – ask your stockbroker, or the infamous management of Sports Illustrated – that artificial intelligence transformed from a dreamy projection into a widespread threat and perpetual sales pitch. Does this sound like the future to you, or has AI already taken to staleness and fraud Nonfungible tokens worthless now,
Artists have been deploying AI technologies for some time, after all: Ed Atkins, Martine Sims, Ian Cheng and Agnieszka Kurant have used neural networks and large language models for years, and orchestras created AI-generated Bach Variations in the 1990s. Were playing. , I think there was something cool about it when I first tried ChatGPT – a slightly more sophisticated grandchild of Eliza, the therapist chatbot of the '60s – although I've barely used it since then; ChatGPT's hallucinatory falsehoods make it useless to journalists, and even its tone feels like an insult to my humanity. (I asked: “Who was the better painter, Manet or Degas?” Response: “It is not fair to compare artists in terms of 'better' or 'worse', as art is a highly subjective field.)
Still, the explosive growth of text-to-image generators like MidJourney, Stable Diffusion, and Dell-E (the last one is named after the most prolific artist of the 20th century; that should have been a hint) has put those concerns to rest. Gave for whom AI was coming. Culture – that certain abilities once thought to be uniquely human now face computational rivals. Is this really the case?
Without specific prompts, these AI images default to some common aesthetic characteristics: highly symmetrical composition, extreme depth of field, and the bright and shiny edges that appear on backlit smartphone screens. The figures have the waxed fruit skin and dark eyes of video game characters; They also often have more than 10 fingers, although wait for a software update. There's nothing here that I would call human, and any of these AI illustrations are, in themselves, an aesthetic irrelevance. But collectively they signal the danger we are already facing: the devaluation and trivialization of culture into just another flavor of data.
AI cannot innovate. All it can produce is quick-run estimation and reorganization of already existing materials. If you believe that culture is an imaginative human endeavor, there should be nothing to fear, except – what do you know? – Many human beings cannot imagine anything more important than this. When a TikTok user posted an AI-generated song in the style (and voice) of Drake and The Weeknd in April, critics and copyright lawyers said nothing less than the self-definition of our species was at risk, and Was a simple type of listener. One was left wondering: Was this a “real” song? (A soulless engine that strings together a bunch of random formulas can be passed as Fly – Hard to believe, I know…)
The next question is: Why is the music of these two cocksure Canadians so algorithmic to begin with? And second: What can we learn about human art, human music, human writing, now that AI's well-meaning guesses have put their nakedness and thinness on full display?
As early as 1738, as musicologist Deirdre Loughridge writes in her interesting new book “Sounding Human: Music and Machines, 1740/2020, “The Parisian crowd was astonished to see a musical automaton equipped with bellows and pipes, capable of playing the flute. He liked the robot very much and happily acknowledged that the sounds it made were “real” music. An android flutist, in itself, posed no threat to human creativity – but inspired philosophers to understand humans and machines as constantly entangled, and inspired artists to step up their game. To do this in the 21st century requires us to take seriously not only the capabilities we have with machines, but also what makes us, or should, different.
I am extremely certain that machines are disguising themselves as humans; They're terrible at it. humans are working like machines – This is a very real threat, and culture, as the supposed guardian of (human?) virtues and values, has failed to combat it over the years.
Every year, our art and entertainment have surrendered themselves to recommendation engines and rating structures. Every year our museums and theaters and studios become more assimilated by the tech industry into the reduction of human consciousness into simple sequences of numbers. A score out of 100 for happiness or fear. Love or pain, surprise or anger – it's all just metadata. Insofar as AI threatens culture, it's not in the form of some cheesy HAL-meets-RoboCop fantasy of out-of-control software and killer lasers. The danger is that we limit ourselves to the limits of our machines' limited capabilities; The danger is to condense human thought and life to fit ever more standardized data sets.
It certainly seems like AI will accelerate or even automate the composition of elevator music, the production of color-popping, festive portraiture, the screenwriting of various coming-of-age quests. If so, well, as in Cher Horowitz's father Says in “Clueless” I doubt anyone will remember you. These were already the outputs of “artificial” intelligence in every way that matters – and if what you write or draw has no more depth or humanity than the creations of a server farm, then surely you Deserves obsolescence.
Instead of worrying about whether robots can do what humans do, we have to do much better raise our cultural expectations of humans: to expect and demand that art – even and especially art created with the help of new technologies – testifies to the full extent of human powers and human aspirations. Ukrainian musician Heinali, whose album “Kiev Eternal” I have on hand throughout 2023, recreates the wartime capital through beautiful harmonies of medieval plainsong and contemporary synthesizers. Nary Baghramian's sculptures, which I followed this year in Mexico City, Aspen, in the garden of MoMA, and on the facade of the Met, reflect the most contemporary ways of creating the most delicate and supple forms. These artists are not afraid of technology. These cannot even be replaced by technology. Technologies are tools for human flourishing.
I spent much of this year thinking about stylistic exhaustion and the widespread feeling that, in the digital age, culture is going nowhere fast. The concerns that will come with artificial intelligence in 2023 confirm this fear: that we have lost something important between our screens and our databases, that content has won form and the day of innovation has arrived. If our culture has become stagnant, can we call our various chatbots and Insta-kitschy image engines for what they are: mirrors of our diminishing expectations?
Seen this way, I might even find myself wondering whether AI might be the best thing to happen to culture in years — that is, if these machines of perpetual mediocrity, these supercharged engines of cliché, are the only ones capable of doing things by humans. Could put pressure on us to reevaluate. As Loughbridge writes, leaving behind “a narrow fixation on how machines can act humanly”, now is the time to explore “what it means to work with them and be present in relation to them.” Is.”
To count something, you have to do more than just rearrange preceding images and words, like any old robot. You have to put your back into it, your back and maybe even your soul.